Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird has been publicly critical of Lance Stephenson’s antics with LeBron James in the 2014 NBA playoffs; however he knows the phrase “you’ll miss me when I’m gone” appears to be ringing true, after Stephenson left $44 million on the table to sign a less-lucrative three-year, $27 million dollar deal with the Charlotte Hornets.
Bird spoke to USA Today about his inability to retain Stephenson’s services:
“I really feel bad about losing him,” Bird said. “I hope it doesn’t interfere with our relationship. But I did what I could possibly do to keep him here. Even if he didn’t have any other offers, I was committed to giving him that $44 million because I believe in the kid. If you look at our roster, we have five or six guys in the last year of their deals, plus David (West) and Roy (Hibbert) can opt out, so don’t you think I wanted to keep Lance and Paul (George) locked into long-term deals?”
“It’s just disappointing,” Bird said. “When I’d go to practices, when he was on, he was by far our best player. And he worked. If you work as hard as he does, you’re going to get better. I’m going to miss the kid, no question. And he’s growing up. That stuff he pulled in the playoffs, that was out of the blue. But I knew how good Lance was and the value he brought to our team.”
There’s no question that the Pacers lost some intensity with the departure of Lance Stephenson. In order for the team to maintain it’s position at the top of the Eastern conference; the remaining players (P. George, D. West, and…?) must raise their games to a new level, and all-star center Roy Hibbert must return from his current MIA status.