With the trade deadline fast approaching, should the Pacers consider moving their "franchise player" Danny Granger?
For years now, people have been comparing Granger to Scottie Pippen. The debate has been raging for years about whether Danny is a No. 1 guy or just a really good No. 2. Much like Pippen, he is a very good small forward that can do a lot of things. The problem is, much like Pippen, it doesn't appear as though he will ever win a championship if he is the best player on the team.
The Pacers aren't likely to find the next Michael Jordan anytime soon. Indiana has a lot of expiring contracts and raw talent on their roster. Larry Bird is trying to figure out how to take all of these pieces and make them fit together. There has been a lot of talk on whether or not he will bring head coach Jim O'Brien back next year, but I personally don't see how he would. I am 90 percent positive he will not return next season.
While the coach has received most of the criticism, it is Granger who is having the worst season (statistically) of his NBA career. His shooting percentage is at an all-time low, and his turnovers are up this year. Rebounding has always been a crap shoot with him. Sometimes he will get you 12 or 13, while other times he can only grab two or three. For a guy his size, there is no reason to think he couldn't average around seven or eight per game, especially with nobody at the PF to get them. He has been looked at as the face of this franchise for a few years now, but many people (including myself) have questioned his ability to lead this team.
So on to the question, should the Pacers move Granger before the deadline? The short answer is no. Keep reading if you want the long answer.
While this team has looked terrible the past six or seven weeks, things are going to get better. The schedule will get much easier in February with multiple games against teams that are at the bottom of the league. As this team progresses, they should get better, and they show glimpses of improvements in certain areas. The worst thing they can do is keep sliding and barely miss the playoffs again, leaving them with the worst lottery pick in the draft, à la the last four years.
Another thing you have to look at is the aforementioned expiring contracts and raw talent on the roster. Guys like Hibbert, Hansbrough and Collison are just getting into the rhythm of things in this league. They are just now beginning to play together and getting familiar with one another. They have all been playing decent and will only improve. The expiring contracts of Ford, Foster and Dunleavy might be attractive to some teams. They have other expiring contracts they can relieve themselves of at the end of the season. Nobody knows what will happen with the collective bargaining agreement this offseason. So, we will have to hold our breath.
How likely is it that a talented free agent will look to come to Indiana this offseason? It probably isn't the most attractive destination, but sometimes money can persuade people. Having Granger with this team will help attract potential free agents as well. If Danny isn't here, and the free agents are set on trying to win a championship, there is no way they would sign to play here.
Some people thought, and still believe, the reason Indiana drafted Paul George last year was to be the replacement for Granger in the near future. While I think George can be a starter in this league, I don't know if he is going to be the face of this franchise. I love his talent, and I think he will be a really good player, but I think the future of this team rests with Hibbert and Collison. It seems strange to think that right now, but by this time next year, I think people will start to see it.
Indiana has already experienced what it is like to have both Granger and George on the floor at the same time. When O'Brien puts Granger at the PF spot for their "small lineup," he has really handled it well. He rebounds much better, and he has some great matchup problems on offense. Not too many guys at the PF position can stay with Granger on the wing. Much like the Atlanta Hawks, this lineup has proven it can work—just maybe not for an entire season. Of course, if Indiana were to land a solid PF at some point, this lineup probably wouldn't be used as much.
I don't know how Hibbert's progress is going with his sports psychologist, but I am sure it will only help him get his confidence back. He has already shown he is capable of being a leader on this team, and his energy and passion for this team and the game of basketball is contagious to the fans, especially at Conseco Fieldhouse. Collison has been coming on strong the past few games, but he still has more work to do. Getting a PF that can really excel in the pick-and-roll situations will help him tremendously going forward.
Danny has done a lot of heavy lifting for this franchise ever since Jermaine O'Neal left town for good. Not to say that O'Neal was a good franchise player, but he was supposed to be the "franchise guy" after Reggie retired. The whole Jermaine thing obviously didn't work out, and when the former New Mexico player began playing well, he emerged as the next guy to lead this franchise. Whether he will ever be that guy is still debatable, but for now he is a Pacer, and we should give him the credit he deserves. Just because he is having the worst statistical year of his career doesn't mean it's time to dump the guy. Sometimes you just have to ride out the bumps on the road and keep driving.
I think the biggest question facing this team right now is exactly what position are they going to try to improve the most for next season? If you look at the three best players (in my opinion) Granger, Hibbert, Collison, you have to wonder if they are satisfied at those spots or if they think they can get somebody better. That leaves the SG and PF spots open in my eyes. Rush has improved this year, but I think he is more of a sixth man than a good starting SG. While O'Brien has said that he wants Dunleavy to come back next year, I just don't see that happening at all, in fact I think they will both be gone at the end of the year.
The PF spot is tricky because McRoberts has improved a lot since coming into the league, but he is just a short-term fix in my mind. Hansbrough has really had some good games this year, but I'm not too confident he is the long-term solution either. While you have Hibbert at Center, the backups are really a concern. Solomon Jones and Jeff Foster are capable of doing a few things but nothing spectacular. The big men in general are just some of the worst in the league, I believe. Sure, they are all great guys and have good character, but that does nothing for you on the court.
How satisfied is the team with Price and Stephenson at the PG position? Obviously, Ford will be out of the mix, and Dahntay Jones hasn't seen a lick of playing time. I think we will see Lance get some playing time in the near future, just to see what he can bring to the table. That leaves us with Paul George and James Posey. Posey has filled in admirably this year and has been handling this challenging situation with class. He is trying to teach the young guys and just play when his number is called. This guy is used to playing for championships, so I can really respect the attitude he has played with this year.
All of that being said, I expect this team to have some pretty significant changes before next season. Whether or not those plans include trading Granger before the deadline or not is something we will keep an eye on. With so many expiring contracts and guys on the roster that have been around for awhile and not done much, you could see why changes are coming. Don't forget about O'Brien either. He has been given all of the years that were put on his contract, this being the last one. I think Larry will thank him for his duties, then begin searching for the next coach.
The biggest move could be the biggest mistake for this franchise if they were to move Granger. Having him here gives you your identity and could persuade potential free agents (along with money) to come to Indiana. Having a solid core is something you want, especially when these guys are young and haven't had enough time to play together.
Taking the Oklahoma City Thunder approach looks to be a wise thing, but it helps when you have two stars like Durant and Russell Westbrook. This team needs some experience, especially guys that are going to come in and want to win. We have too many guys that are passive and get shaky legs at the end of games. There are at least 10 guys on this team that would rather pass the ball to Granger in a tight game, than try to hit a big shot. Maybe, that's O'Brien's call, which is another problem in itself.
Collison proved to me in Golden State he wants the ball in the final minutes. I know Hibbert wants to take that shot too. Had he been able to play in that game on Wednesday night, I know he would have called for the ball. Outside of those three, I haven't seen anything to show me anyone else is willing to take it upon themselves to make a play. That is the reason they have lost 12 games this year after having a lead in the fourth quarter.
Just to wrap it up here, there is no reason to trade Granger. He is still your best player, and unless you are getting a player that is better than he is in return, there is no reason to consider a trade with him being involved. The team has said that "nobody is untouchable" when it comes to players that could be traded, but I think they know he is likely going to be here for a long time.
I hope he stays. It would be weird to see a team just hold the ball and let the clock run out when they are down by two points.