In fact, it's pretty difficult to imagine a scenario where Granger actually stays in Indiana. Granger's expiring deal worth $14 million will almost certainly require Indiana to renounce his cap hold and Bird Rights at the outset of the free-agency period.
Although he used to be the Alpha Dog and the first priority in Indiana, multiple injuries have allowed other players to surpass him in the pecking order. One of those players is Lance Stephenson, who will also be an unrestricted free agent after this season.
As it stands right now, Indiana should have right around $10 million under the luxury tax line next year, depending on whether or not Luis Scola remains with the team. That might not be enough money to keep just Stephenson, let alone Granger and Stephenson.
Although going over that tax line hasn't been ruled out entirely, it seems very unlikely. Here's what Bird told Pacers.com before the season:
“Well, the books are never right for us because we’re always under the tax,” Bird said when I asked if he’s confident in the team’s ability to re-sign Stephenson. “It’s hard to compete with teams. But we’re going to do whatever we can to keep the young man. He’s worked as hard as anybody has ever worked here and you’ll see it on the court because he’s had a great summer.
The Pacers may need to fork over some serious cash to keep Stephenson, which likely means that staying under the tax and re-signing Granger, unless it's to a veteran's minimum deal, is nearly impossible.
There's also the question of whether or not Indiana wants to re-sign Granger. The Pacers are obviously grateful for what Granger did in his prime, and Granger is likely appreciative of the opportunity he received from Indiana. But now, with Paul George clearly entrenched as the team's building block and primary scoring option on the wing, Granger may no longer be a logical fit.
This is essentially a battle for the last remaining bucks between Stephenson and Granger, and it's not difficult to handicap the race at this point. Stephenson is adored by the organization, and he has the full support of the franchise's star player as well:
“He puts the time in,” George said of Stephenson. “He really made the commitment to step up. When we closed the season down last year in Miami, I gave a speech for everybody to come back better. He's one guy who picked it up.”
Now compare that to what Pacers GM Larry Bird recently said about Granger:
"He doesn't work hard enough (in the offseason)," Bird said of Granger. "He's not a guy who'll push himself to the brink like a lot of our guys do. He works hard but he doesn't push himself. That's why he starts slow every year and he just works his way back. Now this year, he's been hurt, so it's a different deal."
For financial and basketball reasons, it seems like it's time for Indiana and Granger to part ways. The question then becomes, how much is Granger going to command on the open market?
First and foremost, the answer is dependent on health. Granger missed all but five games last season with a knee injury, and he's only played in three games this season due to a strained calf muscle.
In the limited time Granger has been on the court, the results have been ugly. He shot just 28.6 percent from the field last season. This year, he's shooting 22.7 percent. Granger doesn't just need to stay on the court; he has to play much better as well.
That's part of the issue with assessing Granger's value. The knee injuries are a concern, and all the miles on the odometer at age 30 are hard to ignore, but Granger's play has been on a steady downward slope since his All-Star season in 2008-09. His points per game have declined in every season since that year, and his true shooting percentage has done the same.
Again, that was before the major injury and all the subsequent setbacks, so interested teams have to factor that in as well.
The NBA is a "what have you done for me lately?" kind of league, but there are always teams that will be hopeful a star can rediscover some of his magic. Granger is likely no longer viewed as a viable starting small forward in the league, but rather as a sixth man off the bench. That's the role we'll see him in the rest of the season in Indiana, and if he thrives, it should carry over to his next team.
A few good comparisons for Granger's next contract are the ones Brandon Roy and Elton Brand received. Both players came off major injuries and massive contracts just like Granger is now.
Roy's knees were considered to be in much worse shape than Granger's, but he was still able to pull in a two-year deal worth $10.4 million after not playing at all in the season prior to the signing.
Brand was two years older than Granger when his contract expired, but the Dallas Mavericks claimed him after being amnestied for $2.1 million. This season, Brand received a one-year deal with the Atlanta Hawks worth $4 million.
The mid-level exception ($5.3 million) seems like a fair ceiling for Granger, barring a complete turnaround this year and a great playoff performance. Because of his medical history, a one-year or two-year deal with limited guaranteed money makes sense.
Perhaps Granger would be willing to sacrifice a few extra million to sign on cheap with a contender, and maybe he'd even consider taking the veteran's minimum to remain in Indiana. It all depends on what's most important to him at this stage in his career, and if he's healthy enough to warrant a spot in a contending team's rotation.
Like most contract years are, this is a big season for Granger to establish his value. He's in a new role, and he'll need to show that he doesn't have to hog possessions to have a positive impact.
How much money per year will Danny Granger get in free agency?
From Indiana's perspective, it's a tricky situation.
If Granger plays well, it's a big help for their title chances but also a near guarantee that he'll be somewhere else next season, especially if Stephenson keeps playing well and the luxury tax continues to be avoided like the plague.
If Granger plays poorly, Indiana will have a worse shot at a title but also a better chance of retaining him going forward on a cheap deal.
We'll see which scenario plays out, but if recent history is any indication, Granger's decline in productivity will be mirrored by his salary going forward. It would be surprising if a team spent more than the mid-level exception on him next year.