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Bird is ready to fly as Pacers, other NBA teams go camping

With eight new coaches spread around the NBA, it would seem that equal attention might be paid to each of them.

But since one of them is Larry Bird, the others will have to settle for being out of the spotlight on Day 1 of training camps.Bird, after several seasons in the Boston Celtics' front office, will be back on the basketball court this season as he takes over the helm of the Indiana Pacers.

His team took to the court in Orlando, Fla., this morning for the start of two-a-day practices, and no one really knows what to expect from Bird, one of the greatest players ever to lace 'em up - but also a neophyte when it comes to coaching.

"I was demanding of myself as a player, and although I know these guys aren't as talented as I am, I plan to be just as demanding of their effort," Bird said recently.

And if Bird feels his players need a lesson, "I'll take a VCR and put a videotape in it and say: `That's how it's supposed to be done."'

Bird has heard all the doubters saying he is not the coaching type. He also has heard the inevitable comparisons to Magic Johnson, who briefly coached the Los Angeles Lakers at the end of the 1995-96 season.

"Magic still wanted to be a player," Bird said. "I'm different. I want to coach. It's a different challenge, but it's still the same sport."

Indeed, it is the same sport.

And this year, like so many others this decade, begins with the same storyline: Everyone is chasing the Chicago Bulls.

It's been more than three months since Michael Jordan & Co. walked off the United Center floor with their fifth title in seven years, and the summer was filled with teams either trying to upgrade their talent or find a way to pay for their existing stars.

Such was the case with Kevin Garnett and the Minnesota Timberwolves, who finally reached agreement Wednesday night on a six-year extension worth more than $121 million.

Garnett is among the so-called draft class of '95, a group of first-round picks who entered the league with three-year contracts. Teams had until midnight Wednesday to extend those deals, and Garnett was one of the few who broke the bank in getting an extension.

The Denver Nuggets were unable to do so with Antonio McDyess, so they traded the forward to the Phoenix Suns in a three-way deal that sent Wesley Person and Tony Dumas to Cleve-land.

It completed an almost complete overhaul for the Cavs, who made more changes than any other team, except Rick Pitino's Celtics and Bill Hanzlik's Nuggets.

When the Celtics assemble at the U.S. Naval Education and Training center in Newport, R.I., Pitino will be working with an almost entirely different team from the Celtics squad that won just 15 games last season.

Other new coaches will be Chuck Daly in Orlando, Larry Brown in Philadelphia, Brian Hill in Vancouver, Mike Dunleavy in Portland and P.J. Carlesimo in Golden State.

Eddie Jordan of Sacramento and Greg Popovich of San Antonio, both having taken over in midseason, will be running training camps for the first time.