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Ian Thomsen's Fast Break


If only Bill Walton had received such scrutiny: After Pau Gasol had a stress reaction in his right foot, the Grizzlies held him out for 23 games before he could suffer a full-blown stress fracture. The 7-foot Gasol returned last week to score 56 points in three games. Though the foot hasn't fully healed, he says doctors will do weekly MRIs to monitor it.... The Suns' 6'7" Joe Johnson has emerged as one of the league's most versatile players: At week's end he ranked seventh in minutes (39.6) and second in three-point shooting (46.1%) while manning every position from point guard to power forward. Expect the Hawks, Cavaliers and Sonics (should they not re-sign Ray Allen) to make a run at the 23-year-old restricted free agent this summer. "They're wasting their time," says Phoenix G.M. Bryan Colangelo, who vows to match any offer.... Mavericks forward Keith Van Horn won't necessarily sign with the highest bidder when his six-year, $73 million contract expires after next season. He has been traded four times in three years by teams eager to unload his enormous salary (currently $14.5 million). "My whole thing is [going to be] stability for my family," says Van Horn, who is married with four children.... What do Jerry Sloan, Gregg Popovich, Rick Adelman and Nate McMillan have in common? They are the only coaches who have been with their teams for more than three seasons.


Looking for an instant contributor with your lottery pick? Francisco Vasquez, a 6'10", 230-pound center for Unicaja Malaga of Spain, is already a productive player in the Euroleague, averaging 8.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 19.4 minutes. In a draft packed with teenage prospects, the 21-year-old Vasquez is the equivalent of a college senior. While he's still developing as a scorer, his workaholic approach to defense will earn him NBA minutes next season. "He's extremely long, and he plays with relentless energy," says a Western Conference scout. "There's no question he's the most NBA-ready player [in Europe]."


3. As the Lakers sink deeper in the standings, the starting salary they'll have to pay next year's coach rises. Whatever they offer, it is becoming an increasingly unattractive job.

2. One reason that Europeans get taken so high in the draft: They have agents lobbying on their behalf for months or even years before they declare. American players are barred from hiring agents until they leave school, which puts them at a disadvantage in the global race for first-round money.

1. Dear Throwback Jersey Industry: After seeing coach George Karl (above) model a Nuggets tank top on the sideline last week, you have two options: 1) Pay Karl $1 million to never wear your product again. 2) Face certain extinction.

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