INDIANAPOLIS — Ever since he was traded by Denver to Indiana in 1996, swingman Jalen Rose has been waiting to become an unrestricted free agent. He even fought for two years to be released from his original NBA contract only to have the league rule otherwise.
This summer, Rose finally will get his wish, and he couldn't be a hotter property. After leading the Pacers in scoring during the regular season, Rose has stepped up as a leader in the playoffs and is a key reason Indiana is in the NBA finals.
Team President Donnie Walsh is well aware of Rose's rising stock and hopes to sign him to a long-term contract during the off-season.
"I've already said that I wanted to sign all [of the Pacers' free agents] this summer, but it's a matter of who's going to hit the bell first," Walsh said. "It's probably going to be Jalen first because of his age and the year he had."
After playing in Reggie Miller's shadow the last couple of seasons, Rose believes he is prepared to take over as the Pacers' main go-to player.
"I'm ready to do what I have to do," Rose said. "It's a maturation process. I have been around this league for six years, and I understand what it takes to win on every level. I'm a good team guy, who is all about winning. That's evident by the situation I am in right now as a first-year starter for the Pacers."
Working hard on his game is something Rose has always done. It's just now he's getting respect for his all-around skills. Defense used to be an issue for Rose but not anymore. Just ask the Lakers' Glen Rice, who was shut down by Rose in the Pacers' Game 3 victory.
"I thought Jalen did a great job on Glen," Indiana point guard Travis Best said. "Rice is a terrific player and a great scorer, but Jalen kept an eye on him and made sure he knew where [Rice] was, and that was a key for us."
In previous summers, Rose spent most of his time in the Los Angeles area because he didn't know if he was mature enough to stay home in Detroit. But not anymore.
Rose, who will be getting married soon and whose fiancee is expecting their first child next month, spent some of his off-season a year ago in Detroit and says he has matured a great deal since his first season, when he struggled as a rookie with the Nuggets in 1994. He's looking forward to taking his game to a higher level.
"The thing about great players is that you always have to get better. You can't stand pat and be satisfied behind a little bit of success or people start knowing who you are. I'm going to continue to work."
Sam Perkins plans to hang up his sneakers once the NBA finals are over and retire after 15 seasons in the league.
Perkins has seen many big men come and go, and he gives Laker center Shaquille O'Neal high marks in how much he has grown as a player.
"When Shaquille O'Neal came into the league, of course he was an exceptional talent, but he had to learn about things he didn't have," Perkins said. "Instead of just coming in and dunking, he had to really know the game, know his teammates and stuff. . . . Those things take time.
"Even though he was big, maybe not as big as he is now, he still had a lot to learn about the NBA game. That's what I'm saying, when he was a little younger he probably was into so many other things, he didn't realize where he could be."
As is his custom, Indiana Coach Larry Bird did not try to dress up center Rik Smits' continued ineffective play in any kind of coach-speak.
After a wobbly first two games of this series, Smits played only 19 minutes in Game 3, making three of 11 field goals and scoring six points, before Bird yanked him out for good.
"Obviously, we'd like to see Rik score more and do more for us," Bird said Monday. "It seems like he's out of sync and, you know, he's just not getting the job done.
"But hopefully, in the next game, we can get something out of him because he is big; he is very capable of scoring points for us."