Pierce and Granger changing colors can be rationalized.
But does such a trade make sense for both teams?
Why It Makes Sense for Boston
Without question moving Pierce for Granger makes sense for the Celtics. Because they play the same position, Granger would simply fit into Pierce’s spot in the starting rotation. Boston would get five years younger while gaining athleticism and offense.
Granger isn’t as complete a player as Pierce is, but he can flat-out score, which was a problem for Pierce as the season wore on, especially in the playoffs.
The change in scenery should be welcomed by Granger. He'd join a team that would be competitive (health permitting) in the Eastern Conference with his contributions and if Kevin Garnett plays with Boston in 2013-14.
Also, Granger would be Boston’s go-to player. Until injuries kept Granger sidelined for all but five games in 2012-13, he averaged better than 20 points per game between 2007-08 and 2011-12. Pierce averaged only 18.6 per game in 2012-13.
There’s been a lot of talk that Jeff Green should start over Pierce. Green certainly made a strong case for becoming Boston’s first option offensively after he had several explosive games in his best pro season.
But Green didn’t always exhibit the killer instinct required of a team’s alpha male.
Granger has been that for Indiana for the previous five years. The pressure will be much higher in Boston than in Indiana, but there are no indications that Granger wouldn’t be able to handle the pressure.
And an offense led by Granger and Green would be very difficult for opponents to handle. With Granger at shooting guard and Green at small forward, they would have a height advantage over many opposing players. This would remedy the lack of height issue if Courtney Lee (6’5”), Jordan Crawford (6’4”) and Jason Terry (6’2”) remain on the team.
As an inside-outside threat, Granger and Green could literally take turns attacking vulnerabilities. Who becomes the go-to guy simply would boil down to who has the hot hand for the night. With point guard Rajon Rondo feeding them, they should flourish.
A Pierce-for-Granger trade does come with some risk for the Celtics. Health has been a constant problem for the former University of New Mexico star. Granger has played a full 82-game season only once in his career. Granger’s return from patella tendinosis in 2012-13 lasted just five games before his left knee flared up and led to season-ending knee surgery.
Over the past six years, Granger missed a total of 121 games, which is 25 percent of a possible 476 games. Over that same period, Pierce missed just 26 games.
Fortunately for Boston, Granger is only guaranteed for the 2013-14 season. If for whatever reason things don’t work out for either the player or the franchise, Boston can let Granger walk as a free agent and gain $14,021,788 in salary cap relief for 2014-15. The Celtics would finally be under the salary cap by then.
Figure in the possibility of Garnett’s retirement that would free up $12 million for 2014-15, and Boston would have deep pockets for free agency.
Best Case/Worst Case
In the best-case scenario, Granger stays healthy, plays injury-free and at an All-Star level. The Celtics would be a lock to reach the second round of the playoffs with a good shot of reaching the ECF. Granger is rewarded with a reasonable five-year contract and Boston remains competitive for the next three to five years.
But if Granger’s knee remains a problem and he misses significant time, the Celtics would be a borderline playoff team. If Garnett retires after Pierce is shipped to Indiana, Boston has to get by as an offensive team without its defensive lynchpin.
Without the leaders offensively and defensively, the Celtics fail to make the playoffs and end up with a bottom-of-the-lottery selection.
Disappointed in their return from Granger, the Celtics let him walk in free agency and consider blowing up the team to begin rebuilding.
Why It Makes Sense for Indiana
The Pacers are Paul George’s team. With Granger sidelined most of the season, George Wally Pipped Granger. In his third season, George had career highs in points, rebounds and assists and earned a selection to the 2013 All-Star Game. Indiana actually got better without Granger, making Granger an expensive spare part.
There are two reasons why the Pacers would trade Granger for Pierce. If this trade goes down before June 30th, Indiana can cut Pierce so only $5 million of his $15,333,334 salary is guaranteed, saving the Pacers $10,333,334. That would put Indiana around $20 million under the projected 2013-14 salary cap.
That would give the Pacers enough money to sign George to a lucrative extension and prevent him from becoming a free agent the following season. Indiana might also be able to re-sign David West and Tyler Hansbrough. Though the Pacers can exceed the cap to re-sign both by using the Bird rights, they would be able to do so within the small market franchise’s budget after releasing Pierce.
If the Pacers intend to keep Pierce, it would be to give a supercharged boost to the bench.
Expectations were high for the re-signed Gerald Green after he averaged 12.9 points per game off the bench for the Pacers in 2011-12, but his average dropped to just seven points per game in 2012-13.
Enter Pierce, a proven scorer with a track record of stepping up at the biggest moments.
The Pacers believe they can knock off the Miami Heat after pushing Miami to six games in a competitive and contentious series last season. If the Pacers fail to dethrone the reigning Eastern Conference Champions in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals, maybe a player of Pierce’s pedigree would push the Pacers over the top.
There isn’t a situation that Pierce hasn’t seen entering his 16th season. More importantly, few players have Pierce’s guile, toughness, leadership or proven reputation as a clutch player. Having Pierce on the floor during crunch time would do wonders for the Pacers’ confidence. He could be the offensive difference-maker the team is missing.
What gives the Pacers pause is whether a possible one-year rental of Pierce is worth it.
Pierce knows he wants to play at least one more year. After that, who knows? It’s a risk exchanging the grizzled veteran when they already have the younger Granger.
But is Granger willing to sacrifice for the team and accept a role off the bench? While Pierce is more likely to accept a sixth man role at this stage of his career, is Granger willing to do the same in the prime of his career? It’s a decision that could determine whether or not this trade happens.
Indiana was 29th in bench scoring during the regular season, and the Pacers won’t improve unless a proven scorer is added as a sixth man. The Pacers could either coerce Granger to step aside for George or put their faith in Pierce and value the intangibles his veteran presence would bring to a young team.
Best Case/Worst Case
The salary dump works pretty simple: Pierce is released, freeing the money needed to sign George to an extension, re-sign West and Hansbrough and have enough money left over to add a free agent to help get past Miami.
The other best-case scenario also leads to an NBA Finals appearance with Pierce being exactly what the Pacers were hoping he would be as a sixth man and a leader.
If Pierce ages disgracefully, the Pacers can find solace that it was just a one-year, $15,333,334 commitment and some of the money saved can be spent on a free agent next season.
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