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Stephenson can become a restricted free agent this summer and president of basketball operations Bird hints not only do the Pacers want the fourth-year emerging star back, they plan to match any reasonable offer he might garner— with certain stipulations.
Feeling Stephenson went too far with some of his antics this season, particularly during the Miami Heat Eastern Conference finals series when he was fined for flopping and engaged in a running trash talking battle with LeBron James, Bird insists he will be more hands on with Stephenson if he’s able to bring him back.
“It was a mistake,” he said of not monitoring 23-year-old Stephenson more closely throughout the year. Bird later added he’s spoken with Stephenson twice since the Pacers’ season ended and has made him fully aware of what he expects of him should he re-sign.
“I’ve got a certain amount I’m going to pay him and I’m not going over that,” said Bird. “I know what I can do to make it work and it’s a very, very fair contract. I will call his agent Tuesday morning and go from there and see what happens. I know Lance wants to be here, he needs to be paid like everybody else has been paid and we’re going to do what we can do to keep him.”
As for the somewhat underachieving Pacers as a whole, Bird said he has decided to give the team as presently constructed one more chance to cash in on all their potential.
“I believe in keeping the core of your team together,” he said. “Now, you might make some moves and try to add to it but I like our core. I think we’ve got to be more consistent and I think we’ve got to have better ball movement and I think players got to be held accountable and they will be. You can speculate all you want but I’m pretty set with our core group and I’m going to give them another shot. They almost got there two years in a row, I think they deserve another shot.”
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