Team doesn't want to gut roster as it searches for 1 key addition
By Mark Montieth
July 6, 2004
He met their bosses, dined with their coaches and waited for an invitation that didn't come.
The Indiana Pacers had no room on their payroll for Stephen Jackson a year ago, and he wound up signing an undervalued contract with Atlanta. He hopes the timing -- and money -- is better this year.
"That's a situation I'd love to be in," Jackson said. "That team is already a dominant team. I'd just be another piece that helps them get where they want to go."
Despite the apparent availability of a few premier players around the NBA, any trades or free agent acquisitions the Pacers make this month more likely will involve the likes of Jackson: players who address needs, improve the team and are realistically available without gutting the roster.
Jackson is among the free agents the Pacers are pursuing during the negotiation period that began Thursday. Contracts, free agent offer sheets and trades may not be executed until July 14.
Other primary targets include unrestricted free agents Erick Dampier (Warriors), Brent Barry (Sonics), Derek Fisher (Lakers) and Mark Blount (Celtics).
Jackson, a 6-8 swingman who averaged a team-high 18.1 points for the Hawks last season, would bring athleticism, energy and perimeter shooting to the Pacers. Dampier, a 6-11 center who played his rookie season with Indiana, would add size and rebounding. Barry and Fisher can play either guard position, and would bring experience, poise and shooting. Blount, a 7-foot center who blossomed in his fourth season, is the second-best free agent center behind Dampier.
Players such as point guards Keyon Dooling (Clippers) and Carlos Arroyo (Jazz), center Adonal Foyle (Warriors) and forward Brian Cardinal (Warriors) also could warrant interest. Foyle and Cardinal are unrestricted free agents; Dooling and Arroyo are restricted, meaning their former teams can match any offer they receive.
The Pacers are over the salary cap, leaving them with exceptions of $1.6 million and $5.1 million to offer free agents. CEO Donnie Walsh said he is willing to offer the full mid-level exception in certain circumstances, but he prefers to work a sign-and-trade arrangement for those players who can command higher salaries.
Jackson and Dampier appear to have the most early interest in the Pacers, but each will have several options.
Jackson listed the Pacers, Atlanta and San Antonio as his top choices. The Hawks drafted three players who are similar to him in size last week. Jackson took that as a sign Atlanta no longer is interested in him, but general manager Billy Knight rejected that notion.
Jackson started at shooting guard on San Antonio's championship team in 2003, averaging 12.8 points in the playoffs. He was Atlanta's leading scorer last season and scored a career-high 42 points against Washington.
He has a close relationship with Pacers assistant Mike Brown, who worked with him in San Antonio for two seasons. Brown was a candidate for Atlanta's head coaching position, which went to Mike Woodson.
"Mike Brown has been a big part of my success," Jackson said. "He taught me how to work and how to get better."
Jackson had dinner with Brown and Pacers coach Rick Carlisle last September, and met with Walsh and team president Larry Bird. The Pacers already had extended guaranteed contracts to 15 players, however. He signed a two-year, $2.1 million contract with Atlanta the next day, but exercised his option to become a free agent after the season.
"We had a great meeting," Jackson said. "They got a chance to see what type of person I am and how hungry I am."
Brown already had that feeling from his experience with Jackson in San Antonio. Jackson has been prone to emotional outbursts, but Brown described him as an energetic player and a "good teammate" capable of motivating others.
"He can help any team," Brown said. "He's a big-time competitor; he really wants to win. I think he'd be a great fit here."
Dampier was traded for Chris Mullin in the summer of 1997, following his rookie season. He began telling Pacers officials he wanted to return soon after. He is one of the league's hottest commodities this summer, however, and Denver, Atlanta, San Antonio and the Los Angeles Clippers have enough salary cap space to offer an increase on last season's salary of $8.1 million.
To get Dampier, the Pacers would have to work a sign-and-trade with Golden State, whose basketball operations are directed by Mullin.
Dampier, who was unavailable for comment, also has expressed interest in Memphis, the closest NBA team to his home in Mississippi. He attended a Grizzlies playoff game last season and has been recruited by some of their players since the season ended.
Pacers forward Jermaine O'Neal also has been trying to lure Dampier, however. And Dampier might be willing to be lured.
"He's always talked about going back to Indiana because he didn't want to leave there to begin with," said Ed Jones, Dampier's business manager.
The Pacers have not made arrangements for anyone to visit, preferring to deal with agents on the telephone. Recruiting tactics, they believe, aren't what drive a decision for a veteran player.
"My feeling is, they know what you've got," Walsh said. "They want to be on a winning team and to make the money. If you offer the money, you might want to bring them down to talk to them. But all this flying around and recruiting . . . I think it might work with some younger players, but I think you'll see less and less of that."
Five who fit
A look at the five free agents who best fit the Indiana Pacers' needs.
• Age: 26
• Size: 6-8, 218
• Previous team: Atlanta
• Stats: Averaged career-high 18.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals last season.
• Note: Would provide perimeter shooting, athleticism and versatility. Has close relationship with Pacers assistant Mike Brown from their two seasons together in San Antonio. Their relationship could give Indiana the inside track. Didn't play in college and had troubled beginning to NBA career, but has matured greatly.
• Cost: Was a bargain at $1 million last season. Will command at least $4 million and possibly more if several teams get involved.
• Age: 29
• Size: 6-11, 265
• Previous team: Golden State
• Stats: Averaged 12.3 points and 12 rebounds for Warriors last season. Led NBA in rebounds per 48 minutes (17.7).
• Note: Former Pacer would add bulk to the front line and improve rebounding and defense. Some wonder if his improved play last season was motivated by upcoming free agency, but he still is the best center available.
• Cost: Will be a target of several teams in need of a center and can therefore command a high salary. Opted out of a contract that would have paid him $8.1 million next season and could get as much as $10 million. Pacers would have to arrange a sign-and-trade to get him.
• Age: 32
• Size: 6-6, 215
• Previous team: Seattle
• Stats: Averaged 10.8 points and 5.8 assists last season. Shot 50 percent from the field, 45 percent from 3-point range and 83 percent from the foul line.
• Note: Fits backcourt needs as a combo guard who shoots well from the perimeter. Has played shooting guard most of his career but made smooth transition to point guard after Sonics traded Gary Payton to Milwaukee for Ray Allen two seasons ago.
• Cost: Was paid $5.4 million last season. Could command a raise because Denver, which has $23 million in salary cap room, is among the suitors. Might be available for the mid-level exception of about $5 million to a team willing to offer long-term contract.
• Age: 29
• Size: 6-1, 200
• Previous team: Lakers
• Stats: Averaged 7.1 points off the bench last season. Shot just 35 percent from the field and 29 percent from 3-point range in the regular season, but hit 42 percent of 3-pointers in the playoffs. Hit dramatic 18-footer at buzzer to beat San Antonio in Game 5 of Western Conference semifinals.
• Note: Can play either guard position and brings veteran poise and maturity. Wants to start but would accept backup role for a contending team.
• Cost: Was paid $3 million last season. Unlikely to get a significant raise and might be available for less. Perhaps obtainable with a portion of the mid-level exception.
• Age: 28
• Size: 7-foot, 230
• Previous team: Boston
• Stats: Averaged 10.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks last season, and 12 points and 9.3 rebounds in playoff series against Pacers.
• Note: Late-blooming player left University of Pittsburgh after two seasons, then knocked around minor leagues. Showed dramatic improvement last season with more playing time.
• Cost: Was paid $945,000 last season. It has been widely assumed he will sign with Miami because he makes his offseason home in that area, but other teams will offer more money. Philadelphia has made him its top priority and is said to have offered a midlevel exception. It also can reunite him with former coach in Boston, Jim O'Brien, who met with him five minutes after the negotiating period started at midnight July 1.