The highest-impact deal finally came at the end of a mostly fruitless NBA trade deadline, the day of reckoning on Danny Granger's career in Indiana. These are the smart decisions teams have to make sometimes, the tough part of the business for all involved.
Granger had been a Pacers lifer, the embodiment of hope coming out of the 2004 brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Indiana picked him 17th in the 2005 draft, and Granger carried the franchise through its darkest times -- five straight losing seasons -- before the Pacers made it back to the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2012 for the first time since before Granger's rookie year. The brawl season.
Granger was injured for the loss to Miami in the conference finals the following year, but he never stopped being part of the team -- never lost the respect and support of the locker room, the coaching staff, and most important, the Hall of Fame team president, Larry Bird, who watched all of this from afar before returning to the franchise this season.
“I've been playing with most of these guys for five, six years, so we have a relationship that exceeds what we do at practice,” Granger told CBSSports.com in an interview during training camp.
When Granger was rehabbing his various knee injuries, he never lost touch with his teammates -- or with the franchise that he'd so patiently guided through the darkness. What he couldn't do on the practice court, he made up for with paint-ball games, fishing trips and gaming sessions with teammates like Paul George, whose relationship with Granger pre-dated George's arrival in Indiana as the 10th pick in the 2010 draft.
“I was training with Paul before he even got drafted here,” Granger said. “I was working out with him in LA.”
Those friendships will endure, and so will the foundation that Granger was such a big part of building in Indiana. But his official run with the Pacers is over, with Bird pulling the trigger Thursday on a trade that sent Granger and a second-round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers for Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen.
“Really hard,” one person briefed on the Pacers' decision-making process said Thursday.
“Tough business on everyone, sometimes,” said another.
As difficult a day as it was for the Pacers, they know they are chasing something special now – with Bird back in command and with George, Roy Hibbert, David West and George Hill hunting down Miami in the East. With Allen, the Pacers get another frontcourt body to throw at the Heat in a playoff series. In Turner, they get the No. 2 overall pick in the George draft – a headstrong talent they can try to mold in a winning environment, someone who can provide scoring punch now and options for the future.
The smart teams find ways to extend the lives of assets, pushing the expiration date of a successful run farther into the future. Granger, 30, was not in the Pacers' plans beyond this season. With long-term money committed to George and Hibbert, and with West returning this season on a three-year deal, there was no room in the Pacers' small-market budget to keep Granger around to see the championship that is within the Pacers' reach.
So on a day when the Knicks tried to use an asset, Iman Shumpert, to dump the toxic contract of Raymond Felton, and when draft picks were at a premium and nobody wanted to take any chances, the Pacers waited until the last minute and won the day. Indiana won the trade deadline with a smart, forward-thinking move that will help them now and give them a chance to spin more success forward from here.
None of that made it any easier.