Just a few short years ago, Danny Granger was the face of a franchise whose goal was, above all else, reconnecting with a fan base. The locals had grown disgusted by the Indiana Pacers’ collection of brawlers and guys who too often wound up in the police report. Granger, though, was the hope amidst all the chaos.
In time, the front office washed the bile from the decks, and the franchise was ready to begin anew. But to ensure the past stayed buried, the Pacers’ brass rode the mediocrity treadmill for years, choosing clean-cut, middling talent over building a contender in earnest. The team became Danny and the Milk Drinkers.
Granger hit game-winners, won awards and went to an All-Star Game. As his status and confidence grew, he increasingly seemed to fit into the Pacers’ lineage of sharpshooters who knew exactly how good they were. He became easy to cheer for.
But with the franchise sitting on its best chance to win its first NBA title since it lost in the 2000 NBA Finals, there is the possibility that Granger will be sitting at his home, in a different city, while the Pacers throw a championship parade in Indianapolis.
For good reason.
Through Christmas, the Pacers looked like the best team in the NBA. They don't now, not after losing six of their past 14 matchups (after losing only seven times in their first 40 games). A once-historically stingy defense is taking nights off. Paul George is mired in a shooting slump.
You can’t single out Granger for the slide. But he certainly hasn't helped, scoring just 7.7 points per game over this stretch on 35.4 percent shooting. This from one of the league's deadliest deep threats just a few years ago.
By a long shot, today's Granger isn't the Granger whom many Pacers fans grew to adore. Since going down with a knee injury before the 2012-13 season, Granger has been forced to sit around and watch George become the team's new version of himself. It couldn't have been easy, but while rehabbing, he seemed to accept that he would be returning with a diminished role. Then Lance Stephenson barnstormed the league, erasing any chance Granger had at returning to the starting lineup.
While Granger is back on the court consistently for the first time in two years, team president Larry Bird clearly didn't want to wait around hoping that Granger would get healthy enough to become a serviceable scoring threat again. Indiana's season will be a failure if it doesn't win the title, and with Stephenson set for free agency this summer and David West's biological clock ticking, Bird had to make this move.
The deal is a no-brainer in terms of guaranteeing bench production during the playoffs, and it becomes even rosier when you realize that re-signing the newly acquired Evan Turner in the offseason could be a good consolation prize if there isn’t enough money to re-sign Stephenson.
Turner is just better than Granger. This version, anyway.
While that may be true now, it’s tough to distance yourself from what used to be. Granger was the Pacers’ longest-tenured player, the one guy who could look down at his finger and know how much work, how much heartbreak goes into building a team that could win a ring.
If he didn’t before, he certainly does now.