Indiana Pacers franchise players present and past: Paul George (L) and Danny Granger.
Certainly, Granger is a good player in his own right. He had his chances to take Indiana to the next level when he was its franchise player, culminating with the team making back-to-back playoff appearances in 2011 (first-round loss to the Chicago Bulls, 4-1) and 2012 (second-round loss to the Miami Heat, 4-2).
However, as they say, everything happens for a reason.
Many NBA experts thought the Pacers were goners.
And then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, the once timid and gun-shy George served notice he is a legitimate force to be reckoned with.
He established career highs in virtually every statistical category en route to copping several NBA accolades, including NBA All-Star, 2013 NBA Most Improved Player, 2013 NBA All-Defensive Second Team and 2013 All-NBA Third team honors.
Now, he is the Indiana Pacers' franchise player. As for Granger, who becomes a free agent in 2014-15, he will now play a supporting role alongside George this season.
The Danny Granger Mistake
When the Indiana Pacers selected Danny Granger 17th overall in the 2005 NBA draft, they thought it was an absolute stroke of good fortune. Nobody expected Granger to fall that low.
Then-Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle raved about their newest rookie, per Pacers.com's Conrad Brunner.
If we would've had the fifth pick, he would've been the best player available. That's how strongly we felt about Danny Granger's abilities to not only play in this league but contribute on our team. We're very fortunate tonight, and very happy.
Granger made good progress in his first three NBA seasons. On July 9, 2008, former franchise player Jermaine O'Neal was traded to the Toronto Raptors—a deal that also brought Roy Hibbert to Indianapolis.
This paved the way for Granger to sign a five-year extension four months later to the tune of an estimated $65 million (which kicked in during the 2009-10 season). The next two seasons were the pinnacle of his NBA career, averaging a team-high 25.8 points and 24.1 points, respectively.
His production dipped somewhat in the next two years, when the Pacers lost to the Bulls and Heat in the postseason.
Now, on to the bigger picture. Here's how the Indiana Pacers fared when Danny Granger was their franchise player:
|Season||W-L Record||Winning Percentage||Playoff Result||Granger's PPG average|
|2010-11||37-45||.451||Lost in the first round to Chicago, 4-1||20.5|
|2011-12||42-24||.636||Lost in the second round to Miami, 4-2||18.7|
|2012-13||49-32||.605||Lost in the third round to Miami, 4-3||5.4 (missed 77 games due to jumper's knee injury)|
Was it entirely Granger's fault Indiana couldn't get it going when he was its franchise player?
Management has to take part of the blame for this. For the most part, the inept Jim O'Brien was the Pacers head coach (2007-11) when Granger became their main man.
Granger also didn't have a good supporting cast. Take for instance the 2009-10 squad, which went 32-50. Although Roy Hibbert was already around that time, he wasn't the Great Wall of Hibbert as we know him today.
Instead, Indiana had to settle for the likes of Brandon Rush, Mike Dunleavy, Troy Murphy and Josh McRoberts.
How Granger put up with all of the mediocrity in spite of his big bucks is something to marvel at.
Paul George: The Real Deal
Paul George is really the perfect franchise player for the Indiana Pacers.
He has superstar talent, can score in a variety of ways, defend the best wing players on the opposing team and rebound tenaciously.
George also has an exemplary work ethic and a willingness to commit long term to the Indiana Pacers (a separate article by this author about him being the perfect franchise player can be read here).
In fairness to Granger, he is also an ideal franchise player. He is a proven scorer, an underrated defender and a person with good character.
It's just that George beats him by a mile in several aspects. Granger is nowhere near the defender and rebounder George is.
George's major NBA accolades in just his third season when he averaged 17.4 points should be a sign of great things to come. With his upside, he has what it takes to become the first MVP for the Pacers in NBA history.
Coincidentally, he also peaked at the right time with a great coach in Frank Vogel and a solid supporting cast (Hibbert, David West, George Hill, Lance Stephenson, etc.)—several factors that Granger did not have when he became Indy's franchise player in 2008.
Granger just happened to be the best player the Indiana Pacers had back then.
The Final Say
Danny Granger was given a golden opportunity to bring the Indiana Pacers to never-before-reached heights when he became their franchise player five years ago.
Granger tried as best as he could, but a weak coach and supporting cast held him back in a big way. Other factors that came into play—and which Granger had no control over—were his unfortunate jumper's knee injury and the rise to prominence of George last season.
Who's the better franchise player?
These led to the demise of Granger's status as Indy's franchise player.
In the end, he was perceived to be a mistake, because in spite of his stellar individual stats, the Pacers just couldn't reach the level that was expected of them.
He just happened to be the best player the Indiana Pacers had before.
Granger and George, as franchise players, have the right attributes. George, however, has a deadlier arsenal and bigger upside, being a better rebounder and defender than Granger.
On top of this, he also has a stellar supporting cast, which can help Indiana win its first Larry O'Brien Trophy in 2013-14.
And with Paul George around, chances are the Indiana Pacers can win more than just one.