Bird: 'We're closer than we were'

Updated: January 24, 2006, 12:16 PM ET news services

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Pacers are closer to dealing Ron Artest and getting a player to help their struggling team.

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"We're closer than we were," Indiana president of basketball operations Larry Bird said Tuesday. "To say we're going to do something today, well, that's not going to happen."

Artest's agent, Mark Stevens, said "a deal is imminent, almost as soon as possible."

A deal with Sacramento is potentially on the horizon, according to the New York Post, which is reporting that Peja Stojakovic could be dealt for Artest.

Artest was a key component to a team that was expected to challenge for the Eastern Conference crown. He led the league in steals and was the Pacers' second-leading scorer at 19.4 points a game before being deactivated after publicly requesting a trade in early December.

In five years with the Pacers, Artest was an All-Star once and was the NBA's defensive player of the year in 2003-04.

Bird said the Pacers had been interested in Corey Maggette of the Los Angeles Clippers, but there was "no question" that Maggette's sprained left foot affected the process. Maggette averaged 21.7 points in 13 games before getting injured in early December.

The Timberwolves were among many teams that have inquired about Artest and were thought to be a prime candidate to be involved in a trade. But talks between Timberwolves vice president Kevin McHale and Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh have slowed of late.

Jermaine O'Neal, the Pacers' leading scorer, has said some players might be worried about getting traded along with Artest, and it might be affecting their play. The Pacers have lost four of their last five games, including Monday to the Atlanta Hawks, who have the NBA's worst record.

Bird dismissed that idea, saying there's always a chance a player can be traded.

"I don't believe that," Bird said. "How can they be affected? It's the same thing every year."

Bird said his players should not worry because he's trying for a one-for-one deal. He said the Pacers' recent tailspin has not pushed him to make a deal more quickly.

"We want to do what's right for this franchise."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.