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Posted: Friday March 26, 2010 12:45PM; Updated: Friday March 26, 2010 6:32PM
Ian Thomsen
Ian Thomsen>INSIDE THE NBA

Weekly Countdown (cont.)

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Chris Paul
Chris Paul returned to the court this week after missing nearly two months with a torn meniscus.
Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images

On to the rest of the Countdown ...

4 Questions rescued from the spam

Darren Collison has played extremely well in place of the injured Chris Paul. But how much value will Collison have when Paul returns? What do you see as the best scenario with the two point guards in New Orleans?
-- Brandon, Shreveport, L.A.

Having two points is a strength, especially as both Paul and Collison can score. The rookie can come off the bench behind Paul, and he can play alongside Paul too. In the next couple of years, the Hornets may have to trade Paul in order to avoid losing him to free agency, and in that case, Collison can be prepared to become his eventual replacement.

Why does Steve Nash, who has never played in a single NBA Finals game, get more hype and praise from the media than other point guards who have accomplished more than him? Jason Kidd led the woeful Nets to two NBA Finals appearances and Chauncey Billups won the 2004 NBA Finals MVP. These two point guards don't receive the same praise and hype as Nash, yet they have achieved more in their careers.
-- Jay, Chicago

When Kidd was leading New Jersey to the Finals, the MVP went to Tim Duncan; no one can complain about that. As good as Billups has been, he has never put up the kinds of numbers Nash has produced throughout his career. When people complain about Nash winning two MVP awards, do they consider the alternatives in those seasons? In 2004-05 I thought Shaquille O'Neal was just as deserving for the award, based not only on his positive impact at Miami but also on the problems the Lakers had in his absence. But there was no doubt Nash was the choice the following year.

Nash controls a game offensively with his playmaking as well as his scoring, and this year Phoenix has exceeded all expectations thanks to his leadership. He deserves all of the praise he receives.

Who has been the most surprising player to you this season?
-- Aaron, Portland, Ore.

It has to be Brandon Jennings, who might have drifted into the 20s in the draft last June had the Bucks not taken with him the No. 10 pick. For most of this season, I've figured Tyreke Evans to be Rookie of the Year, but based on the Bucks' climb over the last month, I'm considering changing my mind. Point guards should be judged by the success of the team, and Jennings has quarterbacked Milwaukee -- a preseason contender for last place in the conference -- to a winning record and the likely No. 5 seed in the East. The guy is a winner.

If owners know a future lockout is possible, why would they bother to offer the top free-agents-to-be (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh) enormous contracts if they know they won't be able to afford them in the near future? What sense does that make?
-- Carlos J., Fayetteville, N.C.

In one sense, I agree with you, Carlos: Most players aren't going to be worthy of huge investments, considering that the collective bargaining agreement in 2011-12 will make it more difficult than ever to rationalize enormous salaries. But some players are worth any price. Any team that signs James or Wade is essentially spending money to make money, with the understanding that either of those stars will bring in extra revenue by selling tickets in the regular season as well as the playoffs, with the postseason gate serving as a financial bonus to the owner. Some teams around the league doubt that Chris Bosh or Joe Johnson is worthy of a max deal, but the market will likely push them in that direction, with the teams signing them ultimately feeling lucky to acquire them this season.

3 Topics with Jerry Sloan

On charter flights. "That's the reason I'm still here," said Sloan, in his 22nd season as coach of the Jazz. "I wouldn't have lasted this long; I don't feel like I would've been able to [otherwise]. It's so much more convenient than lugging around [baggage] and waiting around in the airport. You get off the bus, and [the team has] 120 bags when you're back East [on an extended trip]. That would take a lot to go through."

Flying by private charter "certainly gives those guys a chance to be able to be in condition to play and take care of themselves. You have a chance to get a better game. We have some bad games once in awhile, but for the most part guys play pretty hard."

On trying to return to the Western finals for the first time since 2007. "They've been together for awhile," said Sloan of Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur. "The thing about it was we had a little success when they were really young. And sometimes that success makes you think you don't have to work as hard. But that's when you have to work a little bit harder, because other teams get better and you have to be able to compete against them. That's where we are.

"The one year we got to the finals of the West, and that's when we had Derek Fisher and Matt Harpring, and those guys gave us some toughness. And we lost those guys, we had to regroup, and that hurt our team. But that's the way life is in this business. You've got to find some other way, or somebody else has to step up to help us play better, to help us be effective."

On fast starts. "I'm never comfortable if we have a big half. We had a Houston game where we scored 70 points in the first half and I thought, 'Oh gees, that usually comes back to average out.'" That night last month, the Jazz went on to beat the visiting Rockets 133-110, which goes to show that a coach never stops worrying, not even after 22 years.

2 NCAA sleepers

With impressive showings in the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament, these players raised their value for the 2010 draft. Here's what an NBA scout had to say about their potential.

Ryan Wittman, 6-7 senior forward for No. 12-seed Cornell. "He has good size, but being a shooter alone won't do it for him. You see guys in the league who are really good shooters with size -- guys like [Jason] Kapono, Steve Novak -- and they have trouble getting time. If you don't move well, it's hard for the coach to play you except situationally, because it's so tough for that player to defend his position, especially with all of the isolations you see on the wing -- having to guard Kobe Bryant or Paul Pierce is really difficult if you're a below-average athlete. If you can't guard those guys then you're probably not going to be a regular rotational guy; you'll be a situational player who comes in at the ends of quarters or when you need shooters to make a comeback.

"From my experience, the second weekend of the Tournament is when things change. Now you're on the scouting report, and you usually have the top two or three teams in the bracket trying to shut you down. It does get lot harder, and looking at that Cornell-Kentucky matchup, I can't think of two more different teams in terms of their style of play, the way they recruit, their academic standards. Kentucky is almost like a pro team with NBA guys sitting on their bench, a traveling party of 50 and unlimited resources.

Wittman had difficulty prying himself open while shooting 3-for-10 for 10 points in Cornell's 62-45 loss to No. 1 Kentucky on Thursday.

Omar Samhan, 6-11 senior center for No. 10 St. Mary's, which plays No. 3 Baylor on Friday. "Samhan is the one who has a real chance to move up in the draft. He really dominated those first two games against Richmond and Villanova. He has good size and a really nice soft touch -- he shoots it pretty easily over the top of the defense. But this next round is going to be a tough matchup because of Baylor's length and athleticism and size. Baylor has [6-10 Ekpe] Udoh, who will be a first-round pick, and they have some long athletic wings in [6-10] Anthony Jones and [6-7] Quincy Acy, who will help and come off the weak side to challenge Samhan. This is going to be a different look than he had against Villanova, where he was able to just shoot over the top of their post defenders.

"Samhan was not on everybody's extended draft list prior to the tournament. The assessment was that he wasn't athletic enough, that he doesn't have a whole lot of lift. Unless you're so physically dominant -- like Shaq, who at this point of his career doesn't need to jump because he's so big and strong -- it's tough to be 6-11 and not be able to move, because in the NBA you'll be playing against guys who are the same size as you and have a little bit of hops. Since Samhan's not a leaper and he's not going to be a big-time shot-blocker, he'll be a situational defender."

1 Name in the news

Mikhail Prokhorov. The Russian billionaire will be profiled Sunday on 60 Minutes in his first American interview as he prepares to take control of the Nets this spring. Here are two questions he can't yet answer: (1) Will John Calipari be the Nets' coach next season, and, (2) can LeBron James be convinced to sign a short contract with the Cavaliers this summer that will enable him to join the Nets as a free agent in 2012, when they're expected to move to Brooklyn?

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