Talk about good timing. . . .
Jalen Rose of the Indiana Pacers was named the NBA’s most improved player Wednesday, marking his rise from an 11-point-a-game reserve to a starter who averaged a team-high 18.3 a game.
Rose is also an upcoming free agent, although the Pacers hope to keep him, understanding the price will probably be the maximum for a six-year veteran, $87 million over the life of a seven-year contract.
“We flat-out want to keep Jalen here,” Pacer President Donnie Walsh said. ". . . This award just confirms what we thought. We think he’s getting up into a very high class of player in this league. I think this award says that, so we’ll do what we have to do.”
Rose, once considered hard-headed and sulky, is now one of the plums of this summer’s free-agent class. He recently told a Detroit paper he’d like to play closer to his family--which happens to be in Detroit--but Wednesday, he suggested he likes it where he is.
Said Rose: “I’d be lying if I said I just want to up and change uniforms.”
Rose replaced Chris Mullin in the lineup this season. Rose’s improvement and that of another teammate, reserve Austin Croshere--who finished fourth in the most-improved voting--are the biggest reasons that the Pacers, who were considered washed up last spring after the wounded New York Knicks ousted them from the Eastern Conference finals, are back, looking better than ever.
“I think the biggest change was putting [Rose] in the starting lineup,” Coach Larry Bird said. “I could have done that last year, but I really felt it was too early for him because he needed another year. . . .
“And the best thing that happened this year--and I wasn’t in favor of it early in the season--but Reggie [Miller] stood back sometimes and let Jalen sort of take over the offense. We ran a lot more stuff through Jalen, and that just makes him a better player. Reggie’s thing was, by the time he got to the playoffs, he would be seasoned and he’d be able to handle it.”
Said Miller: “I’m happy for Jalen. He’s done a lot of hard work. He’s been through a lot here when Coach [Larry] Brown was here. We all know the scuffles they had between the two of them.
“Then Bird came in and he became one of the top sixth men in the game. Now for him to be most improved, that’s something special.”
The top five in the most-improved voting: Rose (32), the Dallas Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki (25), the Detroit Pitsons’ Jerry Stackhouse (19), Croshere (17), the Toronto Raptors’ Tracy McGrady (7).
Interestingly, the Lakers’ Shaquille O’Neal, an annual all-star selection, got two votes and Kobe Bryant, a two-time all-star, got one.
The Knicks, trailing the best-of-seven Eastern finals, 1-0, spent the off day before tonight’s Game 2 thinking of ways to hold the Pacers under the 102 points they ran up in Game 1, which was 14 more than New York had given up in any of its 10 previous playoff games this spring.
“The only good thing we did defensively was, we didn’t foul ‘em,” Coach Jeff Van Gundy said. “But the only reason we didn’t foul ‘em was, we weren’t close enough to get to them. . . .”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
NEW YORK VS. INDIANA
Indiana leads series, 1-0
GAME 1: Indiana 102, New York 88
GAME 2: Tonight at Indiana, 5:30
GAME 3: Saturday at New York, 12:30 p.m.
GAME 4: Monday at New York, 2:30 p.m.
GAME 5: Wednesday at Indiana, 6 p.m.*
GAME 6: June 2 at New York, TBA*
GAME 7: June 4 at Indiana, TBA*
* if necessary. All times PDT