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Q. It's been told, especially in Israel, that President Larry Bird has shown a lot of interest in Sarunas Jasikevicius, the point guard of Macabi Tel-Aviv (the Israeli and European champions), and even had a meeting with him. In your opinion, can Sarunas play for the Indiana Pacers next year? I know that he played an excellent game against the USA in the Olympics, but can he play defense against all of the American point guards? (From Yoav in Israel)
A. Bird does indeed like Jasikevicius, describing him as "the best player in Europe" and "one of the best competitors I've ever seen" in an interview with the Indianapolis Star. Bird has spent extensive time in Europe scouting talent, particularly Jasikevicius. Whether this will translate into a job with the Pacers remains to be seen.
Because he is at the absolute peak of his career, Jasikevicius is attracting quite a bit of interest from NBA teams. Cleveland, Boston, Portland, Dallas and Utah all are reportedly in pursuit of the 6-4 shooting guard. In addition to his starring role for Lithuania in international competition (including 55 points in two games against the U.S.), Jasikevicius has led Maccabi Tel Aviv to consecutive Euroleague titles. Nearing age 30, it appears Jasikevicius (who played collegiately at Maryland) has decided the time is right to make his much-anticipated move to the NBA.
Money will be a factor (his agent reportedly is seeking a three-year deal for at least $10 million), but Jasikevicius has said in numerous interviews his primary interest is in a winning environment. The Pacers certainly can offer that and, with Reggie Miller's retirement, there is both opportunity and need for a player who can have an impact at shooting guard. There are some questions about his ability to defend NBA players but it seems the greater questions should be about their ability to defend him.
There have been no firm reports of any kind of agreement with any NBA team, and Jasikevicius certainly has the option of returning to Europe, where he is not just a star, but an icon. In other words, stay tuned, because this story is still developing.