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Sloan praises play — not awards

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SACRAMENTO — Jerry Sloan doesn't normally push players for postseason accolades. Point guard Deron Williams is no exception.

"I'm not too big into awards," Sloan said.

"I'm not going to get into that with my players at all, because you create a situation," the Jazz coach added when asked specifically Friday about Williams' candidacy for Most Improved Player honors this season. "I think he's done a terrific job for us, is what I'll say — let everybody else decide those things."

What Sloan did concede before the Jazz's late-starting game against Sacramento, though, is that Williams has been "wonderful."

"He's got players that are here, and they've been accustomed to playing with each other a little bit more," he said, perhaps referencing the fact the Jazz, and specifically season scoring-leader Carlos Boozer, have been much healthier this season than last. "So, you know, he's grown tremendously — there's no question about that.

"But," Sloan added, "we never thought he was a bad player last year. I probably (messed) him up a little bit last year with the way we played a time or two, but he's just been a wonderful player."

Perhaps Williams' strongest statistical ammo as a candidate for the media-selected award rests in the fact his assists-per-game average has jumped by a league-high count of 5.0, more than doubling from 4.5 to 9.5 entering Friday's game.

The next-highest jump is 2.6, by Portland's Jarrett Jack and Golden State's Monta Ellis.

Williams and Ellis are among numerous candidates in a wide-open field, along with the likes of Andris Biedrins, Tyson Chandler, Al Jefferson, David Lee, Kevin Martin, Jason Kapono, Luke Walton and ex-Jazz center Mikki Moore of New Jersey.

ALUMNI UPDATE: Former Jazz forward Scott Padgett's early buyout with Memphis from earlier this week makes a little more sense now.

According to the Spanish Web site as.com, Padgett has signed with CB Granada in Spain. There, the Jazz's 1999 first-round draft choice is expected to fill in for another ex-Jazz player, big man Curtis Borchardt.

Borchardt, MVP of Spain's ACB League, reportedly has a shoulder injury.

MORE ALUMNS: Several other Jazz alums were in the news Thursday.

According to the Washington Times, Jazz 2000 first-round pick and current Washington shooting-guard starter DeShawn Stevenson "plans to opt out of his two-year contract the moment the Wizards conclude their season."

"Stevenson," a Times report said, "deserves a significant pay hike after earning the NBA's equivalent of minimum wage this season. He has shown himself to be a better perimeter shooter than advertised, plus (comfort) with his blue-collar role."

In Milwaukee, the Journal-Sentinel reported that ex-Jazz guard Mo Williams of the Bucks "isn't scrambling for the exits" despite the fact he will be among the NBA's top free agents this offseason and has put himself "in the enviable position of being paid much more than the $1.9 million he's earning now by any team needing a point guard that cannot afford Chauncey Billups, the No. 1 free agent out there."

"I love it in Milwaukee," Williams told the newspaper. "If everything works out, I'd love to be back."

And according to The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, which cited an unnamed source, ex-Jazz big man and current Phoenix assistant coach Marc Iavaroni "remains atop the (Grizzlies') wish list" for head coach next season, though "the Griz aren't expected to seek formal contact with Iavaroni until the Suns complete their playoff run."

Iavaroni also if often rumored to be Toronto's top candidate should Sam Mitchell leave the Raptors.

PRICE UNCERTAINTY: Sacramento point guard and Utah Valley State product Ronnie Price recently told the Sacramento Bee that the uncertainty of pending free agency has not yet entered his mind.

"It's crazy, because a lot of people have been asking me ... and I tell them the same thing, that I don't think about it," Price said. "I haven't even really talked about it with my agent, or even thought about it."

Price, who along with BYU product Travis Hansen is one of only two ex-UVSC players to appear in the NBA, has played sporadically for the Kings this season.

HE SAID IT: Retired NBA All-Star Charles Barkley, commenting as a TNT analyst on the Jazz: "If Dallas does not start playing better, Utah is going to beat them in the second (round) of the playoffs ... Let me tell you something: People are sleeping on Utah. That team is dangerous."

E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com