Lance Stephenson blew into LeBron James’ ear, touched the face Miami Heat star and even smacked back-up point guard Norris Cole. Despite the crazy and unpredictable antics, Indiana Pacers president wants him back with the organization next season.
"I always want him back. You just don't let talent like that walk away if you can help it," the NBA legend stated via Indy Star.
For all his questionable on-and-off court acts, Stephenson was a borderline All-Star in the 2013-2014 NBA season averaging 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists in all 78 games he played and started. All figures are career-high for the fourth-year man who was drafted in the second round and 40th overall in the 2010 NBA Draft.
"We don't know what's happening (but) obviously, Lance is our No. 1 guy. Can't have 'em all," added Bird who also referred to the status of Even Turner.
Both Stephenson and Turner will become free agents by July 1 assuming the latter’s qualifying offer is not picked up by the team which is the most likely scenario. Ironically, one of the off-court distractions within the Pacers camp was the supposed rift between these two players as reports of a tussle during a practice session reached the media during the regular season.
Frank Vogel, who will return as head coach for the Pacers next season, shared Bird’s sentiment regarding Stephenson.
"I'd like to see him back, clearly, but he's a free agent," Vogel said. "It's going to be up to him and (what) the rest of the offers look like, but I'm certainly hoping that he's back."
The price of Stephenson’s contract will most likely decide the volatile wingman’s destination. While the Pacers can provide the highest offer, they might be limited considering the current long-term deals in the team.
Roy Hibbert is set to be paid $14.9M, David West at $12M; George Hill at $8M; and Paul George at $15.8 for the next season. This means that they have around $50.3M committed already to four of their five starters.
The NBA salary cap was set at roughly $58M for the 2013-14 season and should increase to around $63M for 2014-15.
Then there are the crazy antics—something the Pacers brass will consider moving forward.
"I'm very disappointed in the fact that in Game 5, Paul George puts on a spectacular display, hit every key shot we needed, made every big play, then after the game, everyone's talking about all the nonsense," Bird said. "To me, that's not being a professional and that's not what we want to be about here.