Pacers may lack needed funds
With James Jones, Davis also on wish list, Indiana may be outbid for Lithuanian guard.
By Mark Montieth
Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird has proved his devotion to Sarunas Jasikevicius of Lithuania by making sojourns to Europe to scout and meet the guard.
Whether Bird has enough influence and -- more importantly -- available funds to woo the point guard, however, could be determined this week. Free agent signings and trades can be executed beginning Friday, if the new collective bargaining agreement is finalized by then.
With the premier free agent guards having reached agreements, Jasikevicius has moved closer to the forefront of desirable catches. The Pacers remain in contention but have competition from teams that might have more money to spend.
Cleveland, Portland, Houston, Dallas and Seattle are among the teams believed to have interest in the 29-year-old, who has gained rock-star fame in Europe after starring in the Olympics and leading his Tel Aviv, Israel, team to the past two Euroleague titles.
Jasikevicius' agent, Doug Neustadt, is seeking a three-year, $10 million contract. The Pacers could afford such a deal with a portion of their midlevel exception, which allows them to award a contract of about $5 million next season. They also want to re-sign free agents Dale Davis and James Jones, however, which presents the challenge of fitting three players into one hole.
"They're just waiting to get the best offer," Bird said of Jasikevicius and Neustadt. "There's not much we can do."
The Pacers' primary competition for Jasikevicius appears to be Cleveland, which is seeking a starting point guard and has $5 million-6 million left to spend on free agents. The Cavaliers have reached an agreement to re-sign center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, a fellow Lithuanian and a longtime friend of Jasikevicius. The two reportedly attended the recent Wimbledon tennis championship together.
"It's nice that he's friends with Ilgauskas, but he's not making a decision based on that," Neustadt said. "Anytime Larry Bird's interested in a player, it has to carry some weight. Sarunas is very pleased that Larry likes him as a player.
"(The Pacers) would be an interesting fit. They're on the brink of doing some things."
Davis has reported interest from teams such as Seattle, New Jersey, Cleveland and Philadelphia, but it remains unclear what salary he will command. Davis earned more than $10 million last season in the final year of a contract he signed with the Pacers in 2000, but at 36 he faces a major pay cut. Just how big remains to be seen.
"Dale has a great fondness for the Pacers, but (a new contract) has to be a fair value," his agent Chubby Wells said. "Like anything else, we're going to look at all of our options and see what teams are offering."
The Pacers' negotiating interest in Davis could be limited by the presence of four other players already on their roster who can fill the center spot: Jeff Foster, Jermaine O'Neal, Scot Pollard and David Harrison.
Bird emphasized the Pacers don't intend to let restricted free agent James Jones get away unless an improbable offer comes his way.
Jones, a second-round pick in 2003, averaged 4.9 points last season. The Pacers can match any offer he receives from another team.
"James Jones will be matched," Bird said.
Call Star reporter Mark Montieth at (317) 444-6406.