Is Danny Granger the Final Piece to Los Angeles Clippers' Championship Puzzle?

D.J. FosterContributor IMarch 3, 2014

Jan 16, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Danny Granger (33) reacts after scoring a basket  during a game against the New York Knicks at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

It's safe to say that the title aspirations of the Los Angeles Clippers will not hinge on the performance of Danny Granger. He isn't the missing or final piece to the championship puzzle, but rather, he's simply added depth, another veteran whose name carries more weight at this stage than anything else.

Granger could potentially offer something better than replacement-level value on a few nights, of course, and there's a chance that those nights might come at a meaningful time for the Clippers.

After all, we've certainly seen less-heralded pickups (like Miami Heat center Chris Andersen) make unexpected impacts, but to suggest Granger will recapture his old form and become a consistent producer seems more like wishful thinking than anything else.

Time just isn't working in Granger's favor. There are only about 20 games left in the regular season, which is a short amount of time for any player to find his role and learn the system of a new team. That Granger is still recovering physically from all of his prior injuries and setbacks only compounds the issue further. 

It's not as though Granger wasn't given the opportunity to round back into form with the Indiana Pacers, either. Granger played 22.5 minutes a night with the Pacers once he was able to get on the floor, and during that time he shot 35.9 percent from the field and registered a paltry 10.4 PER.

The numbers coincide with the eye test. Granger looked two or three steps slow and lacked lift in Indiana, even if you could see the wheels turning. His injuries have very clearly robbed him of some of his athleticism, to the point where it's eroded some of his skill and made his jumper shaky at best.

INDIANAPOLIS - FEBRUARY 12: Danny Granger #33 of the Indiana Pacers shoots against the Dallas Mavericks at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on February 12, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading an
Ron Hoskins/Getty Images

That makes contributing regularly difficult, particularly since Granger was never a plus defender, even in his prime. At least Jared Dudley, the small forward Granger will likely have to usurp for playing time, has a defensive mindset, even if he is just as limited athletically as Granger is at this point.

This just seems like par for the course for the Clippers at this stage, as head coach Doc Rivers is stockpiling familiar veteran talents in an effort to improve the depth and play of the second unit. Granger is the last playoff-eligible pickup for the Clippers this year, joining fellow veteran forwards Hedo Turkoglu and Glen Davis. Of that group, Davis is probably the most significant addition, as he'll fill the role of a desperately needed third big man.

Granger, meanwhile, likely won't see more playing time than incumbent starter Matt Barnes, even if he's the more decorated player and is given the starting job. Regardless, it sounds like Granger is ready to embrace whatever his new role is, based on what he told the Associated Press (via USA Today):

The point I'm at now, coming to this team, whatever role Doc sees fit for me is the role that I would do. I'm not one of those players that says, 'I have to do this, or I have to do that.' I just want to play, have fun, shoot some 3s, throw some lobs, go celebrate.

Even if Granger does end up taking over as starter, Barnes defends on and off the ball, cuts at the right time and can run the floor very well, which are all things the Clippers need that Granger doesn't necessarily provide. With J.J. Redick returning soon, there will be limited time available on the wing and plenty of lineup juggling for Rivers to do.

Where Granger could see some extra time would be as a small-ball 4, which might be his best bet for production at this stage in his career. Opposing power forwards will have a harder time taking Granger off the dribble, and although he hasn't shot the ball well lately, Granger will still demand respect as a wide-open spot-up shooter on the perimeter. If you can minimize the amount of quickness he'll need to use, Granger can still be useful.

ORLANDO, FL - FEBRUARY 9:  Danny Granger #33 of the Indiana Pacers during a game against the Orlando Magic on February 9, 2014 at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this
Fernando Medina/Getty Images

Still, there's a big difference between being useful in small stretches and pushing a team over the top. Granger is more of an insurance policy for an injury to Barnes, as Dudley hasn't been productive and the other wings are either too small (Willie Green, Jamal Crawford) or too inexperienced (Reggie Bullock) to be relied upon heavily in the postseason.

In that sense, Granger is more of a luxury than a need for the Clippers. However, Michael Martinez of provided his opinion on why the Granger signing may mean more from a big-picture standpoint:

Danny Granger may or may not be the answer to the Clippers' prayers at small forward, but his official signing by the team on Friday is especially noteworthy for two reasons.

It confirms that coach Doc Rivers, who is also the team's senior vice president of basketball operations, isn't afraid to mix and match players this late in the season, even if it means risking chemistry and flow.

It proves that Los Angeles is still a prime destination among NBA free agents, but not because of the Lakers.

While you can view it as encouraging that the Clippers can attract a buyout candidate, substantial statements aren't made with acquisitions after the trade deadline. This signing doesn't shed any light on what we already knew about the Clippers. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Doc Rivers and Los Angeles is a good sell, and Granger going elsewhere wouldn't have changed anyone's mind about that.

Ultimately, Rivers wanted depth at small forward, and adding Granger was a low-risk way to accomplish that. In that same article, Chris Paul had a slightly more measured take on the Granger signing:

At the end of the day, with our team we understand that it's all about winning games. We've dealt with injuries and things like that, so depth, especially at this point of the season, is very crucial.

Granger isn't a symbol or a star; he's insurance. Even if the Clippers as an organization are getting the chance to exorcise some demons after they drafted Yaroslav Korolev instead of Granger in 2005, Granger's game doesn't warrant drastic reactions either way. He won't make or break the Clippers, as there would be much bigger issues in Los Angeles if that were true.

At the very least, though, Granger should be mentally prepared if he steps into a role bigger than the one he occupied in Indiana. He's been through plenty of wars in the past, and there should be no shortage of motivation to perform with free agency looming and a chance at a ring still within grasp. All that was true in Indiana, of course, but perhaps time and a new setting will spur his performance. 

Rivers knows the value of having hungry veterans fill out a roster, and Granger fits that role. Whether he gets the opportunity and whether his body is more willing than it was before remains to be seen, but realistically, there are plenty of other players on the Clippers roster who will have a bigger effect on a potential title run.