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A fond farewell and appreciation for Danny Granger

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This wasn't how it was supposed to end for Danny Granger with the Pacers. But after all of the ups and downs with the Pacers, the sudden, bittersweet end is almost fitting.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Two points on 1-6 shooting (0-2 from three land), one assist and three rebounds in 18 minutes.

Danny Granger's numbers in the Pacers loss to Minnesota on Wednesday night leave an empty feeling in my gut, knowing now that they amount to the last stat line for Granger as an Indiana Pacer.

Oh, how I wish Granger's departure from Indy could include a happy ending instead of a bittersweet sudden change.

As much as I tried to raise my expectations for Granger's return this year, his game just wouldn't cooperate. The former franchise star did everything possible. He slid into a reserve role, tried hard to do the little things and defer his natural tendency to take over, giving himself to the team effort in a quest for a championship.

This was it, Granger just needed a few months of that old magic to help give the Pacers championship run a boost and we could all celebrate and then give Granger a fitting farewell.

There were flashes. And those flashes were fun and filled with promise. But Granger's game seemed to plateau of late and in some cases dip through the heavy stretches of the schedule. There was no burst on the drive and no lift at the rim. Considering Granger was trending that way two years ago, well before essentially missing a season and a half, his struggles to get his game back in form is no surprise. His "old man game" is just getting older.

Still, holding out hope for a late-season revival appeared to be the only option for the Pacers. They needed every cent of Granger's expiring cap space to keep their young talent around and still consider keeping Lance Stephenson.

I honestly didn't think it was possible for the Pacers to move Granger for any worthwhile player(s) without taking on salary past this season and jeopardizing their future options -- a future that did not include Granger. But Philly is playing a different game and now the Pacers shift on the fly after saying goodbye to a franchise legend, who leaves town after a star-crossed career with the Blue and Gold.

A variety of circumstances out of Granger's control severely impacted his career arc and the success of the teams he played on. Through all of the crazy and sometimes cruel twists of fate, Granger's nine-year career with the Pacers ended up going full-circle.

Concerns about knee issues in the draft, let the talented forward out of New Mexico drop to No. 17 in the 2005 NBA draft allowing Larry Bird to jump at the chance to draft the eventual heir apparent to Reggie Miller, as the team's future top option while at the same time supplementing a team expected to return to title contention following the brawl year. Now nine years and over 9500 points later, chronic knee injuries slowed Granger's career and his impact on the Pacers as they are once again title contenders.

At the outset of Granger's second year, the "Club Rio Trio" started training camp with a bang to continue the eventual implosion of a talented team that would never end up sniffing a championship, again. The silver lining for Granger was more playing time for a young player who would end up starting 57 games in 2006-07 and almost doubling his scoring output. In fact, in Granger's first four years, his scoring average rose dramatically from 7.5 ppg to 13.9 to 19.3 and then a career best 25.8 in 2008-09.

That last big jump earned Granger the NBA's Most Improved Player award and his sole All-Star appearance. But the Pacers only won 38 games and missed the playoffs. It was now officially Granger's team and the first full year without all of the veteran talent that could never get it together. No more Artest, Stephen Jackson, Jermaine O'Neal and Jamaal Tinsley. For all of the problems that crew went through, their replacements didn't have near the level of talent leaving the Pacers, and Granger, grinding away in the middle of the NBA until they finally caught a couple of breaks in the 2010 draft.

Through those rough years, Granger remained the face of the franchise even though he wasn't a charismatic figure nor a particularly strong leader. He was smart and played hard, doing what he could to help shine a positive light on the franchise. He made a big impact and tons of new Pacers fans in Indonesia during an offseason trip that would help a remarkable program for years to come.

The Pacers and Larry Bird took care of Granger with a contract extension and a promise to help improve the team around him. Unfortunately, when all of that help arrived, Granger's health didn't let him enjoy the payoff of patience on the court.

So Granger leaves Indy as the last sturdy beam in the bridge of players between the title contending mid-2000's team and the current squad. And all due to that knee which gave way to tendinosis leaving him a shell of the player we loved to watch for the Pacers even if it was a challenge to watch his team.

Please share your fond memories, highlights and appreciation for Danny Granger's career in the comments.