Sunday, July 13, 2003

Bird hoping to find Pacers' missing pieces

Enquirer wire services

INDIANAPOLIS - When Larry Bird watched the Indiana Pacers last season, he could tell something wasn't right.

Bird didn't take long to start sounding like one of the league's key decision-makers after being named the Pacers' president of basketball operations.

"I think they've got a lot of talent on this team," he said. "I don't know about the chemistry."

Bird acknowledged Friday he has much to learn about this team, one that hardly resembles the veteran-laden roster he left behind after leading the Pacers to the 2000 NBA Finals. The Pacers lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in his final season as coach.

But Bird already has compiled a wish list: He wants Reggie Miller to end his career in a Pacers uniform, he wants a veteran point guard and he thinks it's about time some of the young players start reaching their potential.

"They can talk all they want about being young," Bird said. "A lot of these guys got seven or eight years in. They've got to start playing like it."

The first order of business for Bird, like the man he's replacing, Donnie Walsh, is re-signing free agents Jermaine O'Neal, Brad Miller and Reggie Miller.

O'Neal's deal is nearly complete and the Pacers hope to announce this week that they have a seven-year deal worth about $120 million with their franchise player and two-time All-Star.

Bird called five-time All-Star Reggie Miller a "very valuable" part of the team and said he wanted a deal completed as soon as possible.

Then the real work begins.

"The biggest aspect of the whole deal is Isiah getting players to play to their capabilities," Bird said. "That's the hardest thing about being a coach. My job is to get those players in here."

CAVALIERS: Cleveland has had discussions with Minnesota about a trade involving Ricky Davis and Wally Szczerbiak, a source close to the situation said.

Minnesota was interested in Davis last summer, when it signed him to a six-year, $34 million offer sheet the Cavaliers matched.

Cavaliers general manager Jim Paxson said recently he was not actively looking to trade Davis.

On the surface, the deal seems to satisfy both teams. Paxson wants a solid outside-shooting swingman. Szczerbiak, who averaged 17.6 points last season, is one of the league's best shooting swingmen and a former All-Star about to enter his prime.

Davis was a main cog in the Cavaliers' offense last year, averaging 20.6 points. But there are lingering concerns that there won't be enough shots to go around with Davis and LeBron James in the same lineup.

HORNETS: Free agent forward P.J. Brown agreed to a four-year contract to stay with New Orleans, his agent, Mark Bartelstein, said.

Brown, a 10-year veteran who led the Hornets in rebounding and ranked fourth in the league in field-goal shooting percentage last season, visited several teams, including San Antonio.

A source close to the player said the deal would be worth a little more than $8 million per season. Brown did not return a call seeking comment.

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