Larry Bird wants Lance Stephenson back in Indiana next season

The Pacers' president of basketball operations wants to re-sign the polarising guard in free agency.

Lance Stephenson ruffled some feathers with his antics on the court in the playoffs, but he still has not lost his biggest fan.

Larry Bird drafted Stephenson in 2010, and the Pacers' president is not ready to let the 23-year-old leave Indiana just yet.

Stephenson is out of contract at the end of the year, and with the Pacers falling short of the Finals once again, he is one of the main contenders to be let go in a potential clearout.

But Bird is committed to keeping the guard around.

He said: "I think his ceiling is what he wants it to be. I always want him back. You just don't let talent like that walk away if you can help it."

Stephenson's behaviour on the court in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat was widely criticised. Even Bird, who rarely goes public with concerns about the team, spoke out against the shooting guard.

In a turbulent season for Indiana in which they finished with the best record in the East but suffered from in-house issues, the guard has found himself at the centre of several controversies. Aside from his antics against the Heat, a remark by Roy Hibbert about “selfish dudes” on the team was thought to be about the Stephenson, and he was involved in spats with teammates George Hill and Eric Turner.

Any team that wishes to sign Stephenson this off season will have to weigh the negatives against his considerable talent. He made a clear leap in performance this year – averaging 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game – and with the current dearth of top-level shooting guards in the NBA he is set for a huge pay rise.

If Indiana does elect to resign him, the team will likely need to go over the salary cap to do so. Unless other moves are made, such as trading away Hibbert, it is clear that if Bird keeps this group together he must have complete faith that they - and particularly Stephenson - can go on to win an NBA Championship.

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