Bird Shifts Focus to Re-Signing Millers

by Jeff Tzucker

Indianapolis, July 16, 2003 - Having finalized a reported seven-year, $126 million contract for Jermaine O'Neal on Wednesday, Pacers President for Basketball Operations Larry Bird can shift his full attention to the two remaining starters on the free agent market - center Brad Miller and shooting guard Reggie Miller.

"We’re doing everything we can," Bird said. "They’re crunching numbers and doing different things and we know Brad’s probably not very happy with us because he wanted to get this deal done right away. I understand that. But we wanted to get Jermaine out of the way; now, we concentrate on the Millers.

"We don’t really have a number yet and I don’t know all of our numbers, but we’re doing everything we can to get Brad Miller back in a Pacer uniform – and Reggie Miller."

Mark Bartelstein, the agent for Brad Miller, said his client has a natural affinity for the Pacers but is compelled to explore the marketplace for the best deal possible.

“You only get so many opportunities to be a free agent, so you have to have an open mind and hear what everybody has to say,” said Mark Bartelstein, Miller’s agent. “He certainly has made it clear from day one he’d love to be back with the Pacers. He loves the fans there and the environment. It’s a great basketball town and he grew up there. It’s got everything you want, but you’ve got to get a deal done. We’ve just got to see what happens. He’s got an open mind but I know in his heart, he’d love to stay with the Pacers.”

With O’Neal, Tim Duncan (San Antonio), Alonzo Mourning (Nets), Juwan Howard (Orlando), Karl Malone (Lakers) and P.J. Brown (New Orleans) already declaring their intentions, what once appeared to be a rich market for quality big men has suddenly dwindled.

The center supply further thinned with Rasho Nesterovic's decision to leave Minnesota for San Antonio, and Michael Olowokandi's reported move from the Clippers to the Timberwolves.

All of a sudden, Brad Miller is the most prominent true center still available, with a glut of teams in hot pursuit. Among those interested in Miller, in addition to the Pacers, are San Antonio, Miami, Dallas, Utah and New York.

“The interest has been there from the first day,” said Bartelstein. “We’re just sort of sorting through everything. There’s a lot of intriguing things out there. We’re sorting through it and hopefully we’ll get to a decision quickly.”

Miller earned a reported $5.3 million last season, when he was named an All-Star reserve for the first time in his career. With Nesterovic in line for at least $7 million per season and Brown agreeing to a deal that would average roughly $8 million, the marketplace has proven extremely favorable for big men.

"His value is obviously far greater than it was last year, or should I say far greater than what he was compensated for last year," Bartelstein told The Indianapolis Star. "We want him to be compensated fairly."

Though Miller said after the 2002-03 season concluded that his decision could hinge on O’Neal’s status – which would seem to favor the Pacers – the team is taking nothing for granted. O'Neal said he recently ran into Miller in Las Vegas and got the impression from the discussion that his preference was to return to the Pacers.

"He really wants to come back," said O'Neal. "He was kind of waiting to see what I was going to do. I think we have a good tandem with each other, very beneficial on the court at the same time. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks, he makes his decision.

"The business is so tough, obviously you want to get the best possible deal for yourself and your family. Obviously, him coming back would be a great situation for both of us. If he doesn’t, I understand it’s a business. And I’m pretty sure if he doesn’t, Donnie Walsh, Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas will work hard to replace him with somebody else. But deep down, I really feel like he’s coming back."