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Posted: Friday April 10, 2009 12:39PM; Updated: Sunday April 12, 2009 10:44PM
Ian Thomsen Ian Thomsen >

Weekly Countdown (cont.)

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George Karl's Nuggets have made a dramatic defensive turnaround this season.
Ian Thomsen's Mailbag
Ian Thomsen will periodically answer questions from users in his mailbag.

2. How can you say the Wizards will be big winners when they still don't play defense? Don't they need a lot more retooling than just a healthy Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood?
-- Kelly Pao, Memphis

The Celtics led the league in defense last year with Pierce and Ray Allen, who were never known as strong defensive players. The Nuggets were unimpressive defensively last year, but this season they rank No. 4 in field-goal defense because they've emphasized it. You don't need to bring in an entire roster of defensive studs in order to play respectable defense. Of course, it would help to bring in a shot-blocker as well as a perimeter defender off the bench. But first the Wizards' new coach must emphasize defense at training camp and every day at practice, and he must persuade Gilbert Arenas and others to commit to defending. That's not going to be as easy as I've made it seem.

2. You wrote recently about the Hall of Fame expanding internationally like the league itself. Do you foresee a day when the NBA operates a separate league overseas, or would it add a European division to the current league?
Leon T., Bronxville, N.Y.

My prediction is that we won't see a European division of teams within the NBA, that we won't see teams in London and Paris competing in the NBA regular season with the Celtics and the Lakers. To plant NBA franchises in Europe would require fans to pay extravagantly high ticket prices (by current basketball standards in Europe) for 41 games per year. American fans tend to view sports as entertainment built around the star personalities, while European fanatics care mainly whether the team loses.

Maybe in time the kids in Europe who love the NBA will grow up with a better feeling for the NBA culture and eventually as adults they'll be willing to support NBA teams in Europe. Until that kind of conversion takes place, the next goal for Europe is to build one or more basketball leagues that operate at a profit while continuing to feed players to the NBA. That in itself is going to be an enormous undertaking, and maybe it will happen someday in partnership with the NBA so that the European leagues will serve as a kind of farm system to the NBA. If European basketball is ever able to sustain itself as a business that makes money, then we'll be much closer to discussing NBA expansion overseas than we are today.

2 future NBA head coaches

2. Jim Boylen. The University of Utah coach spent 11 years as an assistant to Rudy Tomjanovich in Houston (helping the Rockets win two championships) in addition to a season each with Golden State and Milwaukee. He also twice served as a Michigan State assistant -- to Jud Heathcote and more recently to Tom Izzo -- before establishing his leadership skills in two years as Utah coach, leading the Utes to the NCAA tournament this season while going 24-10.

Based on his NBA pedigree and success in charge at Utah, the 43-year-old Boylen is the most likely college coach to jump to the NBA.

"He has championship experience, he's worked with superstars, he's worked with difficult players like [Cuttino] Mobley and [Steve] Francis, and he's great at developing young guys,'' a league executive said. "He's definitely somebody NBA teams are going to look at in the future.''

1. Kurt Rambis. He went 24-13 as the Lakers' interim coach during the 1999 lockout season before Phil Jackson replaced him. Now in his seventh year as Jackson's assistant, Rambis oversees L.A.'s defense. He won four rings as a self-made player for Riley in the 1980s, and another three in the front office and on the bench with Jackson.

Many assistants are worthy of becoming head coaches, but a 50-year-old with such a diversity of winning experience can't continue to be ignored.

"He isn't a networking guy,'' an executive from another team said. "He doesn't have an agent, and he's not out there promoting himself or calling guys from other teams. Maybe people take him for granted because it's all about Phil out there, or they think of him as someone who would never leave the Lakers, but he's a guy who is a very good teacher and works with players one-on-one. I think he's a guy who needs to be on the radar.''

1 note of epilogue

1. On the NCAA tournament. As predicted here a few weeks ago, my 14-year-old daughter won the family NCAA pool for the fourth consecutive year. I'm convinced North Carolina became champion mainly because she picked it to win. The winner in our family contest gets to choose where we go out for dinner. I'm still waiting to find out how much this is going to cost me.

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