Sometimes when thick, dense fog descends upon my hometown in rural Indiana, I find myself squinting my eyes in a feeble attempt to see through it. Of course, no amount of eyestrain is going to improve my line of sight in the midst of such poor, murky weather conditions, yet I do it because I do not want to wait for the fog to dissipate. The same phenomenon occurs when trying to discern what the Pacers true plans are for Danny Granger next season. I know that reading the team’s public statements or scouring trade rumor headlines is not going to provide any straight answers or elucidate the front office’s real plans for Granger, yet I find myself doing it anyway – attempting to see through the fog.
Last season, Danny Granger missed all of the regular season except for 5 games. In his absence, the Pacers starting unit (George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, David West, and Roy Hibbert) posted the second highest plus-minus in the league coming in at +284 (OKC was in first at +288). Without Granger, Paul George emerged as a budding superstar. He was selected as an All-Star Reserve and voted onto the Second All-Defensive Team and Third All-NBA Team. He averaged career highs in points (17.4ppg) and rebounds (7.6rpg). He recorded 150 steals and 40 blocks – the only player in the league to do so. George’s rapid development into an elite player and the productivity of the starting unit has brought on an onslaught of questions from fans such as: Would Paul George’s development have occurred as rapidly if Danny Granger were still in the starting line-up? How will he adjust to being moved back to the shooting guard position if Danny Granger returns to the starting line-up? Is there room for two all-star caliber swingmen? Who starts, Danny Granger or Lance Stephenson? Should Coach Vogel disrupt the chemistry of one of the most productive starting units in the league? All of these questions and more have been posed by Pacers fans and the media this offseason.
Can Paul George and Danny Granger coexist?
In response to these sorts of questions in an interview with HoopsWorld, Paul George stated:
"Even my second year in the league and my rookie year, we were able to play off one another. I did not have as big of a role as I do now, but we still did a good job playing off one another…"
Danny Granger uttered a similar sentiment in an interview with Fox Sports, stating:
"I think the biggest deal about it is the assumptions since I was coming back that there’d be a competition between us, when it’s actually the opposite. The way he can break defenses down, the way he can create, I can just stand, catch and shoot, drive – it makes my job easier. He’s coming in at such a young age – he’s 22 now – I’m going to be 30 in a month and a half."
George has even gone so far as to describe Granger as a big brother. Be that as it may, some fans are still left wondering if bringing Granger back to the starting line-up is the best thing for the team. Is it optimal for the team’s franchise player to be expected to seemingly play out of position? Would Granger be willing to come off the bench?
Will Danny Granger start or anchor the bench?
Danny Granger answered this question in an interview with the Indianapolis Star, by stating:
"I expect to be back in the starting lineup. We really didn't have a drop off from the team before in this team. We lost to the Heat again and my role is kind of secondary to my health."
For now, Frank Vogel has challenged both players. He has gone on the record stating that if Granger returns to pre-injury form he will likely retain his starting position, but he has also challenged Lance Stephenson not to lose his starting spot. Is healthy competition good for the team? Or, is it better for both players to know their roles going into the season? For now, Stephenson seems fine with coming off the bench.
In an interview with the Indianapolis Star, Stephenson expressed his willingness to do whatever the team needs:
"I’m just coming in to play hard. Whatever coach decides to do, I think it’s a great decision. Me coming off the bench, Danny coming off the bench, either way, we’re deep. Whatever helps the team, that’s what I want to do."
By evaluating several members of the team statements, it seems like the consensus is that if Danny is healthy he will return to the starting line-up, thus moving Paul George to the backcourt and Lance Stephenson to the bench. But the same questions seem to come up in fans’ minds: Maybe it would be better to have a former all-star anchor the second unit? Does Lance Stephenson actually better compliment and balance the starters?
Do the Pacers have plans to trade Granger?
With all of these unanswerable questions, some analysts, media members, and fans have even questioned if the best thing for the team would be for the Pacers to look to trade Granger. In response to this idea, Larry Bird has publically stated that he has no plans of trading Granger. Nevertheless, rumors circulated all summer that the team was willing to move a combination of Granger and Gerald Green for the right price. Granger’s name was linked to Clippers’ back-up point guard, Eric Bledsoe. According to Hoopsworld, several NBA teams were linked to Granger in trade talks and rumors including the Los Angeles Clippers, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Houston Rockets. Of course, it is entirely possible that these teams contacted Bird assuming that the Pacers would want to move Granger with the emergence of Paul George as the team’s franchise player. Even so, it appears that at least some conversations regarding Granger’s name did take place. Consequently, it seems likely that the Pacers would have been willing to move Granger if the right trade package had presented itself. In fact, one media outlet leaked that the Pacers may have actually tried to acquire Boston’s elite point guard this summer by dangling Granger’s highly attractive $14M expiring contract to the rebuilding Celtics. This rumor was reported by Rant Sports in an article detailing all of the rumors surrounding Rajon Rondo in the midst of the Celtics rebuild. Rant Sports described the rumored Rondo trades as follows:
"It’s not like he isn’t on the tips of the tongues of every fringe contender or serious player for a championship. The Indiana Pacers have floated the idea of trading Danny Granger for Rondo in the hopes that Boston will bite on the expiring contract for a final effort to supersede the Miami Heat. He is certainly on the New York Knicks ‘radar, who are readily looking for a Robin or even a Superman to tune the music with the likes of Carmelo Anthony. Even the Detroit Pistons didn’t wait for the ink to dry on Brandon Jennings new deal before whispers got out that they might move him for Rondo."
This would not be the first time that Bird has tried to acquire the Celtics’ triple double machine and NBA assist king. Prior to the start of the lockout season, Bird attempted to get involved in a three-way deal that would have moved Chris Paul to Boston, Rajon Rondo to Indy, and an unknown package of Pacers players to New Orleans. The then, Hornets, owned by the league, did not bite and the deal never materialized. Does this aforesaid rumor have merit? Has Paul George’s development made Danny Granger expendable? Would adding Rondo to a line-up of Hill, George, West, and Hibbert push the Pacers over the top in the Eastern Conference?
Above all, is it true that the Pacers really have not tried or will not try to trade Danny Granger? Look back at Larry Bird’s Summer League Interview with NBA-TV. During that interview, Bird lauded rookie Solomon Hill for always making the right play. Bird later went on to say that if Hill continues to improve he could be playing big minutes after the all-star break. These comments left some fans wondering why his minutes might not be earned until after the all-star break. Moreover, who on the team is not going to play in order for Hill to be on the court? As the roster currently stands, the team is deep at the small forward/swingman position with Paul George, Danny Granger, and Chris Copeland. Therefore, is it possible to construe that Solomon Hill (if he continues to develop) will be playing increased minutes because someone might be moved to a new team after the all-star break? Perhaps, the Pacers know they cannot get value back for Granger until after he has returned to the court and proved he is fully recovered from injury?
Many of these same questions were posed to Steve Kyler of HoopsWorld during an NBA Rumors Chat on August 19, in which he responded as follows:
"I have talked to the Pacers at length about this…
They plan to play out Danny Granger and see where they end up… Danny is fine with a smaller role, he wants to win and knows that winning will yield more for him in his next contract than getting traded somewhere.
Now there is truth to the idea that Danny might have value at the deadline, but the way its been said to me is that three things happen… Danny is injured again and doesn’t play and has no trade value… He plays well and has trade value, but he has more to Indiana because he’s playing well… or he is average, which means he has no real trade value and he isn’t playing much.
The Pacers are playing for a title and they don’t have nearly the "star" power some of their competition has so they’ll need depth.
I think Danny ends the season in Indiana unless the wheels just come off and they are a bad team, which I do not see happening."
From Kyler’s response, it seems that the Pacers intend on beginning the season with Danny Granger still in the fold. It also appears that the Pacers do not believe they will be able to get value back for Granger at the deadline whether he is injured, mediocre, or playing above expectations. It is possible that the Pacers value Granger’s $14M contract coming off their own books, rather than taking back something in return at the deadline. Just the same, under the new CBA, it seems that a lot of teams would value being able to shed $14M of salary next summer.
So where does all of this leave fans? Will Granger be starting? Will he be coming off the bench? Can he coexist with Paul George? Will he finally be healthy? Have the Pacers been in talks to move him? Will he be a Pacer after the trade deadline? The fact of the matter is that you can read all the team’s statements to the media, keep up with the team’s summer acquisitions, and follow all of the trade rumors and still have no better idea of what the team’s plans are for Danny Granger next season. I can go outside and squint my eyes, but I am not going to be able to see the rest of my rural community through the thick, dense fog. In the end, you are better off just waiting for the season to unfold and have the questions answer themselves – or for the fog to clear on its own.