Paul George hesitated briefly and measured his words when asked Friday whether he would like the Pacers to re-sign Lance Stephenson, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
"I mean, I don't know," George said, following Indiana's season-ending loss to Miami in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. "That's for [Pacers president] Larry [Bird], [GM] Kevin [Pritchard], for them to decide."
If that initial reaction was somewhat less than enthusiastic, George did vouch for his fellow 2010 draft pick.
"It would be great, we came into this league together," Indiana's two-time All-Star small forward said. "It would be great for us to continue our journey together. He's played a huge year this whole season and in this postseason. He's definitely put pressure on us to make decisions going forward with Lance."
George's comments came after the Pacers were eliminated by the Heat for the third straight season. Miami blew out Indiana 117-92 in Game 6 to advance to their fourth straight Finals.
MAHONEY: Pacers will have to get creative, lucky to keep Lance Stephenson
The 23-year-old Stephenson enjoyed a career year in 2013-14, averaging 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists while putting himself into the conversation for an All-Star selection.
“I definitely want to be back," Stephenson said after Game 6. "Right now, I’m not really focused on that. I’m just showing love for my guys and showing how hard we worked and cherishing this moment."
A four-year pro, Stephenson set career-highs in scoring, rebounding and assists, but his hijinks sometimes overshadowed his play. During the Eastern Conference finals, Stephenson was twice fined for flopping on Heat forward LeBron James and he drew criticism for blowing into James' ear. He also said that James' engagement in trash talk was a "sign of weakness" -- a comment that led to negative reactions from his teammates -- and he was called for a flagrant foul during Indiana's Game 6 loss.
Prior to the playoffs, Stephenson engaged in a practice "tussle" with teammate Evan Turner. Rumors of locker room discord have circled around the Pacers for months.
"We're playing for something much bigger than that guy," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, when asked about Stephenson's behavior during the series.
Following the Game 6 defeat, Stephenson posted an Instagram message acknowledging his teammates and Pacers fans.
"This was a great series, they deserve it, all love to Heat," he wrote. "Want to say that I'm so proud of my teammates, we work so hard all year to get to point. Everything is a learning experience and getting better every year. Love [you] guys Pacer Nation and thanks to all of our Pacer fans."
The Point Forward named Stephenson to the All-Payday Team back in January in anticipation of his potential earning power as one of the biggest names in this summer's free agent class. The other key members of Indiana's core -- George, David West, Roy Hibbert and George Hill -- are all under contract for the 2014-15 season.
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