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Indiana Pacers Face Serious Offseason Decision Due to Danny Granger's Injury

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 24, 2016

This is exactly what Indiana Pacers former All-Star Danny Granger had been trying to avoid all season.

After months of non-surgical treatments failed to solve his nagging left knee problems, Granger will indeed be headed under the knife and is now officially out for the season (via USA Today).

But the news carried a far more somber tone than one of panic. Despite the fact that they got just 74 minutes spread out across five games from Granger, the Pacers (44-26) have established themselves as one of the Eastern Conference's elites.

How did they manage to maintain, improve even, on their success from last season?

A team that went 42-24 in a strike-shortened regular season, then went on bring the franchise its first postseason series win since 2005. A team that was unquestionably still led by Granger, who averaged nearly six more points (18.7 per game) than its second-highest scorer (Roy Hibbert, 12.8).

It took the birth of an All-Star (Paul George), a season of redemption (Lance Stephenson) and the most intimidating frontcourt tandem in the Eastern Conference (Hibbert and David West).

The fact that it all came while Granger was largely restricted to an observer's role is nothing short of remarkable.

But it also means that the Indiana brass are now facing a possible franchise-altering decision with regard to the future of Indiana's hobbled star.

While it seemed unthinkable as recently as last season, the Pacers may have already flashed their cards this season. When Granger's name made a rare cameo on this season's trade deadline rumor mill (via Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld.com), Indiana's thought process wasn't entirely clear, but ideas were clearly in motion.

It's not outside of the realm of possibility that George (17.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.8 steals per game) could have had the same breakout season while sharing the floor with Granger.

But the fact that the pair share the same natural position, small forward, and demand a heavy offensive workload suggest that it may have been more than coincidental that George's best season as a pro came while Granger was out.

There's no telling what effect Granger's operation will have on his career. He's been bitten by the injury bug before, having missed at least 15 in games in both the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons, and will turn 30 on April 20.

George's presence can't be overstated in this decision. Few players in the NBA today channel their energy to both ends of the floor the way he does.

And considering he's all of 22 years old, he may not have a ceiling at this point.

But there's also no telling where Granger's trade stock lies, either. His scoring numbers have always impressed (this season snapped his five-year run of averaging at least 18.7 points), but he hasn't shot above 43 percent since 2008-09.

Will his biggest value lie in his expiring $14 million contract for next season?

If so, will that bring enough in return for the Pacers to comfortably part ways with the player most responsible for transforming this franchise from one of the league's biggest frustrations (Malice at the Palace, anyone?) back into a respectable organization?

If I had to put money on this outcome, I'd guess that Granger's Pacers playing days aren't over yet.

Teams are still figuring out the NBA's new collective bargaining agreement and what it means to their future ability to add expensive talent.

Granger is a pleasure to watch, a gifted scorer who refuses to back down from any challenge.

But he's also a massive $14 million risk, and one that could potentially be had for pennies on the dollar as part of a loaded 2014 free-agent class.

If he's moved next season, expect the transaction to take place around the trade deadline. The financial hit of his arrival will be lessened, and if he's healthy, he could bring some postseason help to both the Pacers and his future employer.

It won't be easy for Indiana to cut ties with one of its brightest stars of the past decade.

But taking emotions out of the equation makes any potential Granger trade a possible great move for both the player and the team that he's returned to relevance.

 

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