Trade Rumors Intensify as NBA Deadline Approaches

INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 14 - They can be denied, but not ignored. Trade rumors, always part of the fabric of life in the NBA, can become a smothering distraction in the days leading up to the trade deadline.

Such rumors are hardly new to the Pacers, but they have taken on a renewed prominence this season, centered primarily on Travis Best because this is the final year of his contract and Jalen Rose because he is a premiere player who is perceived to be available. With one week before the Feb. 21 trading deadline, the next few days promise increased intensity in both real and imagined discussion. The rumors, and distractions, will be flying.

The most recent, in the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday, had the Pacers sending Rose and Best to the Bulls for Brad Miller, Ron Artest and Charles Oakley. That particular package of players cannot be exchanged due to salary-cap restrictions, but the Tribune reported Bruno Sundov could be included to make the salaries balance. The deal, however, would leave the Pacers without any backup point guard behind rookie Jamaal Tinsley.

"There's 1,000 rumors out there right now, but there are no firm deals," said team president Donnie Walsh. "Sometime next week, we'll probably know if anything is going to firm up. But I'll tell you this: I'm not shopping Jalen Rose."

Rose said Walsh told him as much in a recent meeting to discuss the player's future with the franchise.

"I talked to Donnie Walsh and he told me he wasn't in the market to trade me at all," Rose said. "He talked to me about the commitment he made to me a year-and-a-half ago as a free agent and he talked about taking this team back to where it was a couple of seasons ago, and I believe him."

Rose did say, if a trade had to come, he would prefer not to be moved to a cellar-dwelling team like the Bulls.

"The thing about being a competitor and a player is if you are going to be moved, especially when you don't want to be moved, you definitely don't want to be moved into a scenario that's worse in the standings than the one you're already in," he said. "It's an interesting situation. There's a lot to be talked about. Unfortunately, I'm not the one that makes these decisions. I answer the questions to the best of my ability but at the end of the day it's not my call."

Best also has met with Walsh, though not recently, to discuss the possibility of being traded. Because it's clear Tinsley is the starter for now and the future, Best will have to go elsewhere if that is the opportunity he wants, either through a trade or through free agency after the season.

"Anything's a possibility," Best said. "I've had talks with the team earlier in the season and at the time they said they were happy with the fact I was playing here and that's what they wanted but if the option came and the right people were involved, you never know.

"Right now, you have to understand there's 31 games left in the season. I've been playing here all season and it really doesn't matter to me what happens from this point. If I'm traded, then that's just something you deal with."

For coach Isiah Thomas, the distractions caused by trade rumors are just another factor to deal with as his team, which has dropped 11 of 16, tries to find itself in time to make a strong playoff push.

"Players are human and any time your name is mentioned or talked about, I won't say it's a total distraction but it is something you think about," he said. "It's part of our business. It's part of what we have to deal with. Once the lights come on and you get out on the floor, then you go about your job. The other 22 hours a day when you're not playing, it'll probably be on your mind."

The Pacers have just two games before the deadline - Friday night in Charlotte and Sunday at home against Philadelphia. Then comes four days off that promise plenty of anticipatory stress. Once the deadline passes next Thursday, speculation will be replaced by reality, and the team will be able to focus strictly on the 29 games that will remain. And that, relatively speaking, will be a relief.

"When you have a young team, as we have, that's part of the process of growing, that's part of the process of building," Thomas said. "People are going to speculate and talk about your players. Very rarely do you hear them talk about veteran players with teams that have been together for awhile. The speculation is usually about the young teams, so that's part of it."