A little more than a year ago, Danny Granger was enjoying the rewards of being a first-time All-Star. His moving personal story was being told and retold by the nation's biggest media outlets, and he thought he was on his way to building something special again in Indiana, where the Pacers have languished in mediocrity since they drafted him.
Friday night, in the visiting locker room of TD Garden in Boston, Granger lay prone on a training table wincing every time a trainer manipulated his right leg. The Celtics' Glen Davis had rolled into his knee, buckling it and sending pangs of fear through the rest of Granger's body.
|Danny Granger admits his performance hasn't helped Larry Bird's Pacers. (Getty Images)|
"I'm sure our front office has a plan in place for the team, because right now, what we're doing isn't acceptable," Granger said.
The plan was to build around Granger, a silky smooth 6-foot-8 scorer who would become the Pacers' most lethal sniper since Donnie Walsh drafted Reggie Miller in 1987. Walsh picked Granger 17th overall in 2005, then went about the kind of housecleaning he has just about completed with his new employer, the Knicks. Before leaving for New York, Walsh joined team president Larry Bird in putting the purge in motion. Gone were the bad seeds (Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, Jamaal Tinsley, Marquis Daniels) and bad contracts (Jermaine O'Neal) as the Pacers put the pieces in place to finally recover from the devastating fallout of the 2004 Palace brawl.
As Granger enjoyed the All-Star experience in Phoenix in February 2009, he and the Pacers seemed to be on their way out of the darkness that had enveloped the NBA's little corner of the basketball heartland. Instead, the Pacers (21-45) find themselves on an inexorable march toward what will be one of the worst seasons in the franchise's 34-year NBA existence -- and the worst since they won 28 games in 1988-89, the year after Walsh drafted Miller.
"We took a step back from last year where we were headed," Granger said.
Granger volunteers to accept his share of the blame, acknowledging he missed a month with plantar fasciitis and that he's shooting a career-low 42 percent from the field. Add the significant time missed by Mike Dunleavy, Jeff Foster and 2009 first-round pick Tyler Hansbrough, coupled with the loss of restricted free agent Jarrett Jack and the $9.6 million over four years they committed to the underwhelming Dahntay Jones, and the Pacers never had a chance.
With no cap space to participate in this summer's free-agent bonanza -- and with little to offer those free agents anyway as far as championship aspirations -- the Pacers are limited to the draft, trades and a coaching change in their strategy to stop wasting the prime of Granger's career. It's enough to make you wonder if Granger is having second thoughts about signing a five-year, $60 million extension in 2008 -- the same route fellow 2005 draftees Deron Williams and Chris Paul chose. Had he not done so, Granger would've been a restricted free agent last summer with the chance to hit the unrestricted market along with the other big boys this July 1.
"I love playing in Indiana," Granger said. "I've been here my whole career and signing my extension early was a no-brainer. I've had a great career here thus far and I'd like to continue. I like the situation I'm in, even though we're having a bad season. Teams can turn it around in the NBA with a few moves and you can go from really bad to good. I think with the situation that we'll be in, we'll be capable of doing that."
But for a clue as to how Granger views the big picture, take note of his responses in a recent HoopsHype interview. Asked whether he thought LeBron James would re-sign with Cleveland this summer or leave, Granger said, "If I was LeBron, I'd go to New York."
"New York is the media mecca as far as endorsements and being able to expand your personal net worth," Granger said. "The exposure you can get there isn't only nationally but globally. New York does all that for you."
Did another potential superstar just join the 2010 orbit with that statement? Only if the Pacers pursued the unlikely approach of trading their best player as part of yet another attempt at rebuilding. But remember that Walsh drafted Granger, remember how much he loves tall, long shooters and recognize how unpredictable free-agent movement is going to be come July 1.
If the Knicks struck out on LeBron and had to settle for Joe Johnson, would Walsh then shift gears, find a way to massage David Lee's $11 million cap hold into the equation by retaining his Bird rights, and pursue a trade for someone of Granger's stature -- perhaps even dangling Lee as the bait? Exploring contingency plans has always been one of Walsh's strengths.
While there have been no conversations to date about Granger, a person familiar with both teams' situations wouldn't dismiss it as a possibility. Given his comments about the benefits of playing in New York, Granger clearly wouldn't dismiss it, either.
"Everybody is up for being moved, especially the way this situation has gone," Granger said.
In the meantime, Granger has nothing to do but find his way to the finish line of another abysmal season in Indiana, pursuing the futile goal of refining and improving his game on a team going nowhere.
"Winning is the ultimate measurement of everything," Granger said. "This year we just haven't been doing it."
Some things never change.