October 25, 2005

Free agents await their fate
Pacers remain uncertain if Walker, Brown or Hunter fit into their plans

By Mike Wells

Three players. As many as three games. Possibly one roster spot.

That's the scenario Samaki Walker, Damone Brown and Jimmie Hunter face heading into the final week of the preseason.

"It's like we're coming up on the end of a long-term interview session that started at the beginning of training camp," Hunter said. "You try to do what you can do. Ultimately they have to make the decision off your performance. You try to stay consistent and hope that you have a good outing. That's all you can do."

There is a possibility, albeit slight, the Pacers will cut all three and keep their roster at 14 players. Teams can have as many as 15 players and as few as 13. The Pacers have 14 players with guaranteed contracts. Teams have until Oct. 31 to set their rosters.

All three have had their moments. Hunter, a 6-4 guard, opened the preseason with a 17-point performance at New Jersey. Walker, a 6-9 forward/center, has started two of the five preseason games and is averaging 5.4 points and 4.6 rebounds in 19 minutes. Brown, a 6-8 forward, had 11 points, three rebounds and two assists against Minnesota.

"I don't see us doing anything in the next two or three days," coach Rick Carlisle said about possibly making cuts. "We'll have to see where we are, see if we're getting some people back. The guys we have here now have worked very hard. They all deserve to be here as long as they can."

Injuries could impact the Pacers' decision.

Jeff Foster won't be back in time for the season opener Nov. 2 at Orlando, and there is growing concern David Harrison and Scot Pollard won't play, either. That scenario should favor Walker, who can play power forward and center.

"That's something that is going to be decision of (CEO) Donnie Walsh and (president) Larry Bird," Carlisle said. "We have three guys competing that if that spot is indeed available, they all bring something a little bit different."

Walsh was unavailable for comment and Bird did not return a phone message Monday.

Bender out

Forward Jonathan Bender won't play tonight at San Antonio.

Carlisle said Bender, who is trying to work his way back from three injury-filled seasons, will play in Wednesday's game at Charlotte. Bender has played in four of the five preseason games."He's been able to participate in 80 to 90 percent of the things we've done and that's a great boost for us," Carlisle said. "The idea is to recondition him for basketball and also condition his knees back from injury to being back on the court. The signs are good. We're encouraged, but we're not going to take an unnecessary risk right now."