The Indiana Pacers are one of the best teams in all of basketball – that much is clear. The team is currently 23-5 and sits atop the Eastern Conference standings, ahead of the Atlanta Hawks and defending champion Miami Heat.
The Pacers’ strength, as it was last year, lies in its strong frontcourt. Scoff if you’re so inclined, but Indiana has one of the deepest and most talented frontcourts in the NBA in recent years. The ever-improving Roy Hibbert anchors the defense and is a capable offensive player to boot. At power forward, there’s David West and Luis Scola. Both have taken reduced roles with so much talent surrounding them, but would be capable of scoring 15 points a game or more for lesser teams. In addition, Indy’s best player is Paul George at small forward. George is an All-Star player and is one of the league’s brightest young stars.
Despite all of that, the Pacers have another star in the mix – forward Danny Granger.
Granger, if you haven’t noticed, has been on the shelf with leg injuries. He missed most of last season, playing in only five games, and has suited up only three times so far this year.
The forward has just returned the lineup this past week and the results, as expected for a player that’s missed so much time, have been predictably mixed. Sandwiched in between two performances which saw him shoot a dismal 1-14 for a combined five points was a salvageable 12-point, 5-rebound effort in only 25 minutes of action against the Boston Celtics. With time, Granger might return to the All-Star level player he was at prior to his injuries. In the five seasons before last year’s nightmare, the forward had averaged more than 20 points and five rebounds per contest.
With George leading the way, though, it’s unclear just how much time Granger can reasonably get. If the team were desperate enough for more scoring, they could try to play him alongside George at power forward, but West is a better rebounder and is sorely needed as Hibbert has been spotty on the glass from time to time. Despite his 7-foot-2 height, Hibbert has an obnoxious number of subpar rebounding efforts.
Despite the glut of capable forwards on the team, and his frequent mentions among NBA trade rumors, President Larry Bird seems intent on hanging onto Granger if he can. He didn’t shut the door to a trade entirely, but it sounds as if Indiana wants to try to make a Granger fit work for now.
That could happen, but a trade is possible, too.
As mentioned, Indiana has plenty of talent at forward. Having West, Scola, and George on board, the team even has enough to weather an injury right now. Also around are younger options Chris Copeland and former first-round pick Solomon Hill. An injury would certainly hurt the depth chart, but wouldn’t be the end of the world for one of the best teams in the league.
Granger also hit 30 this year and, while that shouldn’t be an all-out red alert, he’s likely a player in decline – even if it’s only to a small degree. Prior to his injury-plagued year last season, his field goal percentage and scoring had both dropped in each of the previous three years and he’s certainly past his prime a bit. He’s still a very good player, obviously, but whether he can return to the All-Star level he once was coming off the leg injuries is clearly in doubt.
Granger is also in a contract year with his deal set to expire at the end of this season. The Pacers may not get anything for him at the end of this year and watching a player with his talent walk without compensation would be mildly painful at best.
The biggest reason a trade might make sense, though, is because the Pacers could use help at guard. Lance Stephenson has done a fine job this year at shooting guard and George Hill has been capable, but there’s not much around them and they could use some help. Hill, in particular, seems to have regressed a bit shooting worse and averaging more turnovers, and while the frontcourt can adequately weather an injury to a starter, the backcourt cannot.
Despite all of that, Indy should only make a deal that lands them a true talent at guard. Trading away Granger should only be considered if the return is too good to pass up. Dealing him away for a guard that doesn’t provide an upgrade over either Hill or Stephenson just doesn’t make much sense for a team that will need as many weapons as possible to dethrone the Heat.
The other factor, of course, is his health. He obviously would need time in the lineup to prove to prospective teams that he can take a beating. Finding a dance partner willing to give up a quality with all of his issues the past two years could be difficult, anyway.
On a team with so much talent at forward, a Granger move might look like it makes sense. Still, with so many variables, the Pacers’ course of action in trying to hold onto him unless blown away with a deal is the right move.