The Indiana Pacers were the surprise team in the NBA’s Eastern Conference last season, pushing the heavily favored Miami Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. A mere 48 minutes away from their first NBA Finals trip since the 1999-00 season, the Pacers seemed to “grow up” right before the nation’s eyes.
Now, with Paul George’s emergence as a superstar and chemistry within the starting five that is seemingly unmatched in this league, the Indiana Pacers are proving to be one of the best teams in the NBA.
There is, however, one remaining question mark when it comes to the rotation and roster of the Indiana Pacers—what to do with oft-injured forward Danny Granger.
While just two years ago Granger was the undisputed captain and team leader, scoring at 18.7 points per game, it has become clear that Indiana is no longer in need of the ninth-year forward out of New Mexico.
The Emergence of Paul George
Danny Granger’s absence throughout the 2012-13 season and Indiana’s deep NBA playoffs run could have been the best things to happen to this franchise under the current regime.
Following Granger’s five-game stint and season-ending knee surgery last season, the spotlight was on Paul George to take the reins and become the leader of the team.
George answered the call, throwing his own “coming out” party in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat. George went toe-to-toe with the best basketball player in the world in LeBron James while averaging 19.4 points per game and coming up clutch when needed.
Now, coming off of a massive contract extension over the summer, George has seemingly taken that next step. The fourth-year forward out of Fresno State is averaging 24.3 points per game and is, according to ESPN Stats & Info’s Twitter account, one of the best fourth-quarter players in the league.
Who knows? If Danny Granger never gets injured, maybe Paul George struggles to get out of his shadow.
It is now clear, however, that this team is Paul George’s to lead.
The Growth of Lance Stephenson
Another opportunity created as a result of Granger’s absence has been the vacated starting spot. Early in the 2012-13 season, Pacers head coach Frank Vogel rotated forwards Gerald Green and Sam Young into the starting lineup before eventually moving Paul George to the 3 spot and deciding to start guard Lance Stephenson.
Stephenson has been starting ever since.
Though Stephenson had bright spots throughout the season, his play and maturity on the court tended to be erratic. Stephenson became known as “Jekyll or Hyde” around the local Indy media, leaving fans to wonder every night whether “good Lance” or “bad Lance” was going to show up.
Over the course of the last year, Stephenson has shown great strides in both his physical game and his mental maturity. Through 14 games this year, Stephenson has proved to be an X-factor in this team’s success. His high-energy plays always get the crowd going and alter the momentum in big games.
Without Granger’s injury, it’s questionable whether Lance ever sees the floor more than a few minutes per game, stunting his growth as a player.
The biggest remaining question with Granger is not how the forward can contribute, but whether the Indiana Pacers can get anything in return for his roster spot.
Indiana has clearly found its starting five. Any consideration of adding Granger into the starting mix upon his return has surely been disregarded following the Pacers' hot start. And while Indiana could always use another piece on the bench, Granger’s willingness to relinquish a starting role and be a second-unit man has yet to reveal itself.
In order to have any slight chance of trading Granger before the February 20 deadline, however, head coach Frank Vogel will have to find room in the rotations once Granger returns from a calf injury sustained in the preseason.
Granger will have to prove that he can stay healthy and still produce at a decent level in order to have any trade value.
The bottom line is, a lack of consistent health and uncertainty surrounding his game suggest that Granger will still be on Indiana’s roster following the trade deadline due to lack of interest. However, it does not seem likely that Indiana would be willing to re-sign Granger next offseason, especially with Lance Stephenson’s contract expiring at the same time.
It is clear Indiana is no longer in need of what Granger could provide should he return somewhat healthy.
This Pacers team is one has established itself among the top three teams in the league. Any addition to the roster and rotations could result in a disruption of chemistry. Now, Indiana fans must wait and see what happens with Granger—assuming the forward can return with a clean bill of health.
Unless noted otherwise, all stats in this article were courtesy of ESPN.