Thursday, July 17, 2003

Free agent attention centers on Indiana big man Miller

Top free agents finalize deals as signing period begins

The Associated Press

Only one better-than-decent center remains on the free agent market, and plenty of teams were wondering Wednesday whether there was a way to acquire Brad Miller.

"Things are changing by the moment," said agent Mark Bartelstein, Miller's representative.

Miller, an Eastern Conference All-Star for the Indiana Pacers last season, made $5.3 million in 2002-03 and is in position to get a healthy raise. Indiana probably would be willing to give him a starting salary around $7 million, but other height-deprived teams might be willing to offer more.

The Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs and Washington Wizards are the only teams with enough remaining salary cap space to make a better bid to Miller. But San Antonio already has signed center Rasho Nesterovic, and Washington has been pursuing Golden State free agent guard Gilbert Arenas.

There are at least two other teams - Memphis and New York - that have been trying to acquire a center.

With Michael Olowokandi and Nesterovic already signed, Miller is the best remaining choice from a free agent market that includes Philadelphia's Derrick Coleman, Seattle's Elden Campbell and Orlando's Andrew Declercq.

"Lots of people are trying to pursue him. That's the best I can say," Bartelstein said of Miller, a 7-footer who has played for Charlotte, Chicago and Indiana during his five NBA seasons.

Pacers president Larry Bird said the team wants to retain Miller.

The best remaining free agent power forward came off the market when the Miami Heat signed Elton Brand of the Clippers to a six-year offer sheet believed to be worth $84.2 million. Los Angeles has 15 days to decide whether to match the offer to Brand, as well as the offer sheets signed by Andre Miller with Denver and Corey Maggette with Utah.

"This organization has always been committed to winning," Heat coach Pat Riley said in a statement. "This offer sheet for Elton Brand is a continuance of that commitment to try to win and put the best possible players on the floor for our fans to enjoy."

Brand, who has averaged 19.2 points and 10.7 rebounds in his four NBA seasons, would fill Miami's need for inside scoring. The Heat were the NBA's second-lowest scoring team last season.

Brand spent his first two NBA seasons with Chicago and the last two with the Clippers. He was an All-Star in 2002.

The offer sheets to Brand and Miller were believed to be structured to force Clippers owner Donald Sterling to make huge immediate lump sum payments - about $25 million in Brand's case alone - if he decides to match.

Brand averaged 18.5 points and 11.3 rebounds a game last season, overcoming the first two serious injury problems of his career - right knee surgery in September, then a stress fracture in his leg that caused him to miss 18 games in February and March.

The Toronto Raptors signed a pair of free agents, Jerome Moiso of New Orleans and Milt Palacio of Cleveland. Moiso will be a backup on the front line behind Antonio Davis, Jerome Williams and Chris Bosh, while Palacio will play behind Alvin Williams at point guard.

The Philadelphia 76ers signed free agent center Amal McCaskill, who spent 11 games with the Hawks last season.

Sixers forward Keith Van Horn was being prominently mentioned in the rumor mill at the summer league in Boston, along with Latrell Sprewell of the Knicks, Antoine Walker of the Celtics and Tim Thomas of the Bucks.

Several previously disclosed free agent deals were finalized Wednesday, the first day players could sign.

In addition to the restricted free agents who signed offer sheets, O'Neal inked his seven-year deal with Indiana, Alonzo Mourning got a four-year contract from the Nets, Gary Payton and Karl Malone signed multiyear deals with the Lakers, P.J. Brown re-signed with New Orleans and Kenny Thomas stayed with the 76ers.

LAKERS: A Colorado county district attorney said he had not decided whether to file criminal charges against Kobe Bryant, who has been accused of sexually assaulting a woman in Eagle, Colo., on July 4.

Mark Hurlbert said he probably won't announce his decision before Friday or early next week.

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