Mitchell told Szczerbiak that the key was patience in his shot selection. "He listened," Mitchell says. "He got it. What Wally has done is amazing. He came to a team that had expectations. Brand, Odom—no one expects anything from the Bulls or the Clippers. Anyone can put up numbers on a bad team, but can you score and be an integral part of a good team?"
Szczerbiak has proved he can.
The Return of Kevin Johnson
Going from 10K To 94 Feet
Kevin Johnson had never run six miles in his life. After 11 years in the NBA the Suns' star point guard retired in 1998 and began training in order to keep in shape. He hiked Camelback Mountain, joined a health club, did some occasional jogging. "I was in the club one day," KJ recalls, "and this woman came up to me. She said, 'Have you ever run a 10K?' I said, 'No, I haven't' So she challenged me to do it."
For the next three weeks Johnson ran with a friend who was training for the Boston Marathon. Then, on March 19, he ran a 10K race in Phoenix and finished in less than 45 minutes.
Three days later, KJ was channel surfing in his Phoenix home when he learned that Suns point guard Jason Kidd had broken his ankle. Within a half hour Johnson's phone rang. Cotton Fitzsimmons, the team's senior executive vice president, was on the line, asking a favor: Would Johnson consider coming out of retirement to play the final 16 games of the regular season?
Johnson was stunned. In the two years since he retired, nearly every NBA team had inquired about his services; the Lakers and the Pistons had been his most persistent suitors. He seriously considered several offers, but he had played all but 52 games of his career with Phoenix, and in the end none of the deals were compelling enough to make him switch uniforms. Now Cotton was asking him to unretire. "Can I sleep on it?" KJ asked.
By morning, after assurances that coach Scott Skiles was as enthusiastic about his return as Fitzsimmons was, Johnson, 34, agreed to his role as rent-a-guard. Unlike Isaiah Rider or John Starks, unsigned players who were waived by their former teams after the March 1 cutoff date, Johnson is eligible for the playoffs because he has not been on anyone's active roster this season. KJ has no idea how much he can contribute, but he's approaching this as a one-shot assignment, with no promises about the future attached. "I have to treat it that way," he says. "The challenge is so daunting as it is. I'm in great shape, but I'm not in any kind of basketball shape."
Johnson practiced with the Suns last Thursday, then put himself through two-a-day workouts in Phoenix while the team went on the road. He was expected to suit up as early as Tuesday, in Miami. "Looking back, I've been training really hard the past three months for no particular reason," KJ says. "I'm so glad. If that lady hadn't asked me to run that 10K, it might all be different I wouldn't have been physically able to do it. When the Suns called, I would have had to say no."
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Sam the Ham