When pacers star guard Reggie Miller discussed a contract extension with team president Donnie Walsh in November, he told Walsh he hoped to be like Kirby Puckett—the Twins' popular outfielder who took less money than other teams would have paid and re-signed with Minnesota, where he has played his entire career.
Last fall members of Indiana's front office were confident that Miller, in his ninth season, would remain a Pacer forever. Now they aren't so sure. Negotiations were terminated, in part because proposed contracts like the Nets' six-year, $40 million offer (rejected) to Kenny Anderson caused Miller to reevaluate his own worth.
Miller, who was averaging 21.0 points per game through Sunday, 17th in the league, will wait until the end of the season before he commits to any deal. If the Pacers falter in the playoffs, will a frustrated Miller make a decision based on that postseason failure? And what of persistent reports that Miller's volatile relationship with coach Larry Brown has made him think twice about returning?
Brown, Walsh and Miller's agent, Arn Tellem, agree that the player and the coach have had highly charged disagreements. But they deny that the spats will be a factor in Miller's decision to stay or leave.
Miller, usually one of the most quotable and accommodating players in the league, declined to be interviewed for this story. "If Larry says there's no feud, then there's no feud" was Miller's only comment, made through a team spokesman.
Reports of the Brown-Miller spats are "overblown," according to Tellem. "Larry and Reggie definitely have ups and downs, but it's not something that will determine whether Reggie stays in Indiana or not." The deciding factor, not surprisingly, will likely be dollars. Two teams have piqued Miller's interest: the Knicks and the Lakers. Under the terms of the league's collective bargaining agreement, which essentially puts no limit on the amount a player's current team can pay to re-sign him, the Pacers are in a position to pay Miller more than either of those clubs. While they want Miller back, there is a price they won't pay.
Brown is legendary for his tough handling of his players, and he says he will not compromise his coaching style because of Miller's impending free-agent status. "I'm sensitive that this is an important year for Reggie," says Brown, "but I'm more sensitive to the fact that I've got to do my job. And my job is to make him better." Brown has pushed Miller to become a complete player, and Miller has said he never would have been selected to 1994's Dream Team II without Brown's guidance. That guidance is not being solicited at the moment, despite Brown's ideas about what's best for Miller's career.
"There are certain teams that I hope Reggie doesn't go to, and not because I'm afraid to play them," Brown says. Does he mean the Knicks? "Yes," Brown answers. "That would be terrible for him. The city of New York has seen him play two phenomenal quarters"—referring to Miller's 25-point fourth quarter in Game 5 of the 1994 Eastern Conference finals and his eight-point heroics in the final 8.9 seconds of Game 1 in last season's Eastern semifinals. "They're going to expect to see that every night, and it can't be done."
One Happy Hawk
For the first seven years of his NBA career, shooting guard Hersey Hawkins's livelihood was based one edict: knock down jumpers—or else. The pressure that accompanied that requirement weighed heavily on him, both in Philadelphia and Charlotte. So when Hawkins and swingman David Wingate were traded by the Hornets to the Sonics for guard Kendall Gill last June, Hawkins braced himself for another situation in which he would be only as valuable as his last J. After his first 22 games with the Sonics, in which he averaged 13.6 points and shot a mere 42.9% from the floor (including 33.9% in treys), Hawkins prepared himself for the criticism that he was sure he deserved. "I played horrible in the beginning," Hawkins says. "But every time [coach] George [Karl] walked by me, he'd say, 'Don't worry about your shot. You're playing great.' I knew he was lying, but it was nice to hear something positive for a change."