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Signing Miller, Antonio Davis and Dale Davis Top Priorities for Walsh

May 31, 1996

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ Donnie Walsh doesn’t want to break up the Indiana Pacers. He may not have any choice if Reggie Miller, Dale Davis and Antonio Davis decide to go elsewhere as unrestricted free agents.

``We want them back,″ said Walsh, who is the club’s president and has the duties of a general manager. ``I have basically communicated that to their agents, and to the players. I’ve been told by all the players that they’d like to remain here.″

Rapidly escalating salaries may not make that possible. Miami’s Alonzo Mourning, Orlando’s Shaquille O’Neal and Washington’s Juwan Howard have talked about getting more than $20 million per season beginning next year.

Walsh said he is interested in signing all three as quickly as possible once the July 1 deadline for free agency arrives.

``It remains to be seen if we can respond to offers they might receive, or if they find another situation more enticing,″ he said Thursday.

Losing all three would unravel the club Walsh has patiently built since becoming general manager in 1986 following a 26-52 season. Before then, the Pacers reached the playoffs only once in 10 NBA seasons. Now the team has set franchise records for victories and attendance three straight years.

The uncertainty of signing the trio makes it difficult for Walsh and coach Larry Brown to ponder plans for next season, including the June 26 draft when the Pacers have the 23rd selection.

``If we sign all three, then we’re not looking for other free agents as strongly as we would otherwise. If we’re not able to sign all three, then we’ll be a major player in the market,″ Walsh said. ``And I think we’ll have to move pretty fast.″

The loss of Miller, the franchise’s leader in nearly every offensive category and the team’s scoring leader seven straight years, would mean a significant change in the offense.

A team that was often outrebounded as it compiled a 52-30 record for the second year would be hurting without Dale Davis, who led the team in rebounding for a third straight year, and Antonio Davis, the only member of the team to play in every game and was the second-leading rebounder.

``I don’t want them to leave. If Reggie does leave, it would free up money under the cap so that we could go out and get a very good player,″ Walsh said. ``I don’t even want to give creditability to the possibility that Reggie might not be here. We’re going to do what we can to sign him.″

Walsh had talks with Miller’s agent during the season about extending his contract, but they ended after the Pacers offered a reported four-year deal worth about $6.5 million per year.

``I saw where Reggie said he never got an offer, and technically he’s right,″ Walsh said. ``I think we mutually decided the best way was to step back and wait until the season ended.″

Rumors about what players are expecting from free agency adds to Walsh’s dilemma as he tries to think about who the Pacers will select in next month’s draft.

``It makes the whole issue confusing as to what are the values out there,″ Walsh said. ``Then it comes down to what we can afford to do.″

The problems are also complicated by the fact the Pacers play in one of the league’s oldest facilities and in a low-revenue television market.

Opened in 1974, Market Square Arena has no luxury boxes and a seating capacity of 16,530. Recent estimates to renovate the facility range from $68.6 million to $145.7 million, which officials have said is too expensive to justify. It would cost even more to build a new facility, and financing it is another issue.

``If salaries escalate at the rate we are hearing, without a new arena and our present television revenue, it would make it very difficult for us to survive in the climate that might exist,″ Walsh said.

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