Bird's interest helps make Baston's decision easier
By Mark Montieth
The choice wasn't difficult for Maceo Baston. Leave his family behind and go back to playing in a war-torn country, or take less money to play in the NBA.
Baston happily chose the latter when signing a two-year contract with the Indiana Pacers last week. The Maccabi team in Tel Aviv, Israel, for which he had played the past three seasons, offered a three-year, $3.1 million deal, but he took the Pacers' offer of $1.8 million over two years, with a player option on the second season.
"The security thing was a concern," Baston said.
Baston is married and has a 10-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter. He planned to live alone in Israel next season, or at least until the country's conflict with Hezbollah subsided, if he didn't receive an NBA offer. He was within an hour of taking Maccabi's offer when Pacers president Larry Bird came through with a buzzer-beating deal.
"It happened so fast, I'm still in shock about it," Baston said. "My mind was set on going back to Israel.
"I'm glad he thought that highly of me. When one of the 50 greatest players thinks that highly of me, that cements it for me."
Bird became acquainted with Baston while scouting Sarunas Jasikevicius, a Maccabi teammate of Baston for two championship seasons. Baston, a 6-9 forward, averaged 12.8 points and 5.9 rebounds in 24 minutes per game last season. He had teamed with Jasikevicius the previous two seasons in Israel.
Baston's only previous NBA experience is a 16-game late-season appearance with Toronto in 2003. He averaged 2.5 points during a stretch that was complicated by his father's death from cancer. He worked out for San Antonio and New Jersey earlier this summer, and thought he was close to receiving offers from both teams.
He has few expectations with the Pacers beyond contributing. "They tell me to bring chemistry to the locker room, to bring energy to defensive end, to be athletic," he said. "I haven't had a problem getting along with anybody in my career. Whatever they ask me, really. I'm at their disposal."
Warriors back in hunt?
Golden State general manager Chris Mullin hopes that Al Harrington's decision to switch agents allows him to re-enter the picture.
Mullin, a teammate of Harrington's for two seasons with the Pacers, has reportedly offered forward Troy Murphy for Harrington in a sign-and-trade package with Atlanta.
"I'll be on the phone later today for sure," Mullin told the San Jose Mercury News on Wednesday. "If they (the Hawks) want to do a basketball deal, they can do a good deal where we can be as big a player as anybody."
The Pacers were regarded as the lone contender for Harrington before he fired agent Andy Miller and hired Arn Tellem.
The Pacers signed free agent guard Jimmie "Snap" Hunter to a partially guaranteed contract.
Hunter, one of the Pacers' final cuts last season, provides insurance in the backcourt as someone who can play point guard or shooting guard. He averaged 15.4 points on 49 percent shooting -- including 43 percent from 3-point range -- over five games in summer league play. The three-time CBA All-Star played for the Gary Steelheads last season, when he broke his club scoring record with a 50-point outing at Albany.
The Pacers' preseason schedule includes a game Oct. 24 in Columbia, S.C., where Jermaine O'Neal grew up. O'Neal starred at Eau Claire High School before jumping directly to the NBA.
Pacers' preseason schedule
• Oct. 11: vs. New Jersey, 7 p.m.
• Oct. 14: vs. Utah, 7 p.m.
• Oct. 16: vs. Minnesota, 7 p.m.
• Oct. 18: vs. Denver (at Cincinnati), 7 p.m.
• Oct. 19: vs. Charlotte, 7 p.m.
• Oct. 21: at Minnesota, 7 p.m.
• Oct. 24: vs. Charlotte (at Columbia, S.C.), 7 p.m.
• Oct. 26: at Utah, 7 p.m.