The Pacers are currently 11-1 with the best record in the Eastern Conference. They have exceeded all expectations and even took the Miami Heat to a Game 7 in the conference finals last season…but they have a huge problem. It’s a problem many teams in the NBA wish they could have. Danny Granger.
Granger, who has been out for nearly a calendar year, is due back next month. Lance Stephenson replaced him in the starting lineup and is becoming a star. He has already recorded two triple-doubles this season.
When Granger comes back, do you mess with the chemistry of the team and replace Stephenson in the starting lineup? Could they bring Granger, their longest tenured player, off the bench? Is a trade the best long-term solution to the problem?
Start Danny Granger
This option is the most plausible. Coach Frank Vogel is making it a priority to still play Stephenson with the second unit. He’s not playing a full slate of minutes with that group, since he’s currently a starter. He needs Stephenson to get chemistry with the bench. This is a clue to what he plans on doing with Stephenson once Granger is ready to return.
Indiana’s bench was their Achilles Heel last season. They would often fall behind in games when the bench would play. They attempted to fix that problem by letting Tyler Hansbrough and D.J. Augustin sign with Toronto and trading Gerald Green to Phoenix. They bolstered the bench with a multidimensional forward (Luis Scola), a shooter (Chris Copeland) and scoring point guard (C.J. Watson). Stephenson would do well with that group.
Bring Granger Off the Bench
This option is the least likely option for Granger. He’s been with the team his entire career and is a fan favorite. He was the lone bright spot on the team when Reggie Miller retired. Pacers fans are loyal and it just wouldn’t sit well with them if he comes off the bench.
Indiana is one of the best ‘teams’ in the NBA. I used quotations on ‘team’, since NBA teams are filled with self-centered players. An example of Indiana’s since of ‘team’ is the fact that Paul George refused to do an interview alone with ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith. He said he would only do it if the starters and the coach was with him. Smith went ahead with the interview and they all answered questions. If any team could bring a former All-Star off the bench without any internal issues, it would be the Pacers. That is why this option is even in the conversation.
Danny Granger has a coveted expiring contract. NBA teams love to acquire players in the last year of their deal. If a team needs to shed payroll, they will trade for one of those players and then let the contract expire to free up cap space the next season. Teams looking to acquire an expiring contract will often trade established players, but rarely trade draft picks. Those teams are often trying to rebuild their team, so draft picks are untouchable. This is a roadblock for any Granger trade.
The Indiana Pacers recently gave Roy Hibbert, Paul George and David West big contracts. Cap space is becoming an issue. George’s extension coincides with the expiration of Granger’s large contract. They would love to trade Granger for a draft pick or a piece they need to make a playoff run, but that piece would also need to be an expiring contract. Teams rarely trade an expiring contract for another one. Also, the 2014 NBA Draft is expected to be the best draft in over a decade. I don’t see any team parting with any first-round picks this season.
These are the options the Pacers have for dealing with Danny Granger. I believe a mix of the first and third option is the most plausible solution. I expect Granger to start when he returns, but Indiana would trade him if another team offers a deal they can’t refuse. A trade would be more likely to happen if a Pacers starter gets injured and they have a specific need. The way they are playing right now, the Pacers have no specific need.
All this is subject to Granger returning to his past form. If he returns and his knee and calf are still an issue, it changes everything. We will have to wait and see.