Parting with Danny Granger won't be easy for the Indiana Pacers, but it has to happen.
It's like a marriage that's run its course. The relationship was forced from the beginning, with both sides trying to make something work that was always flawed. At the end of the day if the Pacers can't look Granger in the eyes and reaffirm their commitment to him, why continue down an unhappy road?
Right now, the Pacers can't make that commitment.
Instead, the Pacers are infatuated with someone younger and more attractive—a guy who "better fits with their future." That player is second-year forward Paul George. When the Pacers selected him with the 10th overall pick of the 2010 NBA Draft, it was only a matter of time for Granger.
Sadly, Granger has been a good, loyal trooper, giving his best and doing exactly what the organization wanted. It was the Pacers who didn't do right by him.
Granger was never a leading man. Everyone understood that. He was the ideal third scorer, the perfect complement to a bona-fide star, but never your primary option.
The Pacers knew that when drafting him in 2005, but thrust the hopes of their wounded franchise on him anyway. It was fraudulent marriage from the beginning.
Granger's 20.5 PPG were indeed All-Star numbers, only the Pacers and the fans were desperate for Super-Star status. The Pacers tried to convince Indiana that Granger was their man, but he just wasn't.
In fairness to the Pacers, they had no choice but to select Granger. Looking back, the 2005 draft has proven weak. Granger and the Pacers were doomed from the beginning.
For the first three years Granger carried the burden of being the only bright spot on a team wrecked by the fallout of the fight at Auburn Hills. The Pacers were a shell of their former glory and hopelessly trying to patch some, any, talent around Granger to make the playoffs and appease a basketball-crazy fan base.
When that failed and the Pacers realized that the only way to restore the franchise was to start over, Granger suddenly became the mentor and teacher knowing that his best years would be wasted on a rebuilding effort.
Now with the Pacers on the verge of again being competitive, Granger doesn't really fit. Sadly, it didn't have to be this way.
The Pacers rebuilding effort falls somewhere between a genius blueprint and "what the hell is Larry Bird doing?"
Five years in, we don't know. After a dark six seasons during which Pacers fans deserted their basketball roots to cheer on Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, a return of optimism is palpable. An excitement is growing again and with good reason.
Larry Bird's recent moves have been impressive, minus the failed trade for OJ Mayo, which didn't go through because the two teams couldn't call it into the league office in time (Bird had the right idea though).
There are two ways to build a team. One is the Boston Celtics method, which is building a complete team (remember ubuntu?). The other is the New York Knicks or Miami Heat model of signing two or three of the league's top superstars, then surrounding them with washed up veterans and D-league talent.
The Celtics of course acquired three super stars as well, but they were also able to convince them to take lesser money and thus were able to draft or sign other key players including Rajon Rondo, Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Kendrick Perkins. That starting five was as complete a unit as the NBA has seen in a decade.
The template was not lost on other GM's. For more proof look at the Oklahoma City Thunder or the Memphis Grizzlies. And of course, there are the San Antonio Spurs, which have prescribed to the team-first mentality and thus are one of the best franchises in the sport.
Knowing Larry Bird's old school proclivities, it's clear that under his management the Pacers will play team-first basketball. (As a Midwest small market team that can't attract superstars, do they have any choice?)
In building a complete team, the two most important pieces are a center and a point guard. Hands down. Starting three years ago with the draft day trade for Georgetown's Roy Hibbert followed by the bold trade to acquire PG Darren Collison from New Orleans, the Pacers managed to fill both positions.
Managing to get your future center and a smart, pass-first point guard without valuable trade assets all while not giving up Granger earn high marks for Larry Bird.
That was the genius blueprint part. Here's the WTF? part.
The confusion centers on how we ended up with 34 guys that all play the same two positions. Besides Collison and Hibbert, the Pacers have 10 guys who fill two roles. The slashing, mediocre wing player in Josh McRoberts and the undersized, scrappy power forward in Tyler Hansborough.
As a big Duke fan and someone who watched McRoberts play high school ball in Indianapolis, I could have told the Pacers to pass on him. They didn't, and McRoberts somehow ended up starting (Good God).
As a seventh man, McRoberts makes sense. Surely the Pacers would address the position and draft an athletic power forward similar to Jermaine O'Neal is his prime right? "With the 13th pick in the 2009 NBA Draft the Pacers select Tyler Hansborough."
Seriously Bird? Throw in feisty Jeff Foster and Soloman Jones and suddenly you have four undersized energy guys who can't really score, can only get loose ball rebounds and are utterly dominated by opposing bigs. Crap.
Possibly distracted by the Hansbrough trade, I didn't notice that Bird had also managed to accumulate about six slash scoring-wing types who really aren't great slashers and can't really shoot.
The list includes Granger, George, Dunleavy and Stephenson, who are all the exact same type of player, Brandon Rush who the Pacers thought could shoot but can't and Dahntay Jones, who has improbably managed to secure playing time because of his defense.
Here's the thing. Had the Pacers tried just once (well twice if you count the failed attempt with Rush) to land either a shooter or a tough big power forward (think one of the two Davis brothers) and Indiana is easily top five in the East. Even Jim O'Brien couldn't have screwed that up.
Plus there is no way you can tell me that we don't win two of those first three Chicago games with a double-double guy at the four and/or (although and is getting greedy) a lights out three point shooter at guard. We had the lead or were tied in the fourth quarter with a lack of scorers as it was!
But alas we have neither, which brings us back to why Granger must and probably will be traded.
Granger must go because this draft is it. This draft is where Bird's final piece of the puzzle falls into place. At least we hope so. If it was his plan all along to use Granger as bait at a time when his value will never be higher, the pendulum swings towards the genius blueprint level. If he takes Kyle Singler, the Pacers might as well leave town (no offense Kyle).
As much as I like Granger, I'm with Bird on this one. Paul George is good. He's the wing forward of the future and as mentioned earlier Collison and Hibbert are already in place. Therefore here's how it can go down:
First the Pacers ought to draft Klay Thompson out of Washington State. By all accounts he is one of the college's best pure shooters and Reggie Miller light. Suddenly the Pacers are only missing a power forward.
A quick review: The Pacers now have a fantastic young coach who has gotten his players to buy into his structured offense and team first mentality. A point guard that can run the offense. A shooting guard of the future who can play now and should thrive coming off screens able to hit 3's in the aforementioned structured offense. A athletic wing player who can actually slash and one of the league's best and biggest young centers. The bench too would be rock solid. Hansbrough is a perfect sixth man. A.J. Price is coming along as a backup PG and Rush and Dunleavy are excellent compliments as well.
As for the double-double power forward. Problem solved!
Rewind. In getting rid of Deron Williams last spring, the Jazz received Derrick Favors in return. They would have been stupid not to take him but his addition creates a log jam similar to Indy's. Only their's is at power forward (I see a trade developing) not wing.
The Jazz are high on Millsap meaning suddenly Al Jefferson is expandable (this is too good to be true). C.J. Miles sucks and the Jazz are desperate for a another scoring option now that Williams 20.1 are gone (It can't be - Granger's 20.5 ppg replacing William's 20.1 ppg???).
Thus, trading Al Jefferson to Indiana in return for Danny Granger, any backup the Jazz want and maybe even a future pick makes perfect sense for both teams (I can't believe it either, but it actually does).
Suddenly the Pacers now have a complete unit reminiscent of the Pacers 2000 team that went to the finals only with a potential for more explosiveness. The only difference is that the players would be about an average eight years younger than the 2000 squad meaning they could complete for the title for the next decade and grow as a team.
With the rest of the unit in tack adding Jefferson and a shooter in the draft (hopefully Klay Thompson), the Pacers could immediately challenge the East's elite. It's too bad that Granger won't be around to reap the rewards.