Sad, but also encouraging news today. The Indiana Pacers, who have lost 3 of their last 5 but remain atop the Eastern Conference by 2 games over the Miami Heat, traded former franchise player Danny Granger and their 2015 second round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen.
First of all, let's just take a step back and thank Granger for his services to the Pacers over the past 9 years. He was the go-to guy for the team during its darkest hours, when no one wanted to watch the Pacers following the embarrassment of the Malice in the Palace. Sure, he was likely to be gone by the end of the season anyway as an unrestricted free agent the Pacers can't afford because they want to re-sign Lance Stephenson, but you have to feel bad for Granger because he endured those hellish years and finally had a genuine opportunity to contribute on a championship team. Instead, he's now going to a Philly team that has completely gutted its roster so they can be in position to get a high pick at next year's draft and start over.
Larry Bird warned that the Pacers could be making a move before the trade deadline and it was no secret that they were shopping Granger, but the deal still comes as a shock. Granger had spent his entire career in Indiana (only 5 Pacers have spent more time in Indy) and was a loyal dude both fans and teammates loved. He played with a chip on his shoulder and gave the team some added toughness. But let's face it, hampered by injuries over the last couple of seasons, Granger is looking like a shell of the guy who once averaged 25.8 points in the 2008-2009 season. His legs are gone and his greatest weapon, his jumpshot, is so flat it's almost become a line drive. In a season where the Pacers are all in for the title, a gamble had to be taken if it could improve the team.
Note that as the Pacers took on two players in exchange for one, they had to waive Orlando Johnson. As a 2012 second round pick, Orlando showed flashes of promise but wasn't able to find space in the rotation anyway. He recently spent some time in the D-League again and hopefully can find a new home where he can contribute.
What losing Granger means for the Pacers
I said before the start of the season, when it became clear that Granger would miss the first few weeks, that it would take around the All-Star break for Granger to find his legs. Unfortunately, despite recent proclamations by Granger that he was rounding into form, the numbers and the eyes suggest otherwise. No one expected him to put up All-Star numbers again, especially off the bench, but he has, frankly, been terrible. In 22 minutes per game this season he is averaging 8.3 points on 36% shooting from the field and 33% from the 3-point line, which are both significantly below his volume shooter career stats of 43.5% and 38%. He still has that impressive 6'8" frame, but neither his rebounding nor defense were what they used to be.
So let's not sugar coat it. Granger was hurting the Pacers. He's been missing open shots guys like Chris Copeland and even Rasual Butler -- two guys whose minutes have gone to Granger -- would have made, and he's getting blown by on defense against younger, more athletic players. It still hurts to see him go, but it's time to let go of the past and realize he wasn't doing the team any favors by forcing them to feed him minutes so he could try and recapture what is, in all likelihood, already long gone.
In effect, the Pacers are not losing a whole lot by giving up Granger, at least on paper, because they no longer have to give 20 minutes a night to a guy who isn't really helping the team. The impact of losing Granger on team morale and the locker room, however, is a different story, and it remains to be seen whether the rest of the Pacers will play with an added edge to vent their frustrations or feel deflated over the loss of one of their locker room leaders.
As for the second round pick in 2015? No one really cares.
What the Pacers gain in Evan Turner (and Lavoy Allen)
The 6'7" Evan Turner is having a career season, averaging 17.4 points, 6 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 34.9 minutes a game while shooting 42.8% from the field and just 28.8% from 3-point range. Take his numbers with a grain of salt. His averages are high because he's on a horrible Philly team where someone has to score, while his shooting percentages are low precisely for the same reason. The 76ers made it clear that he was available to be traded amid rumors that he wasn't dialled in, something they also said about another recent Pacer addition, Andrew Bynum.
That said, even if those rumors are true, it probably has a lot to do with the fact that the 76ers are tanking and the young locker room lacks discipline. With a change of scenery to a contending team, a reduced role (he'll be coming off the bench) and a strong locker room with David West, it's hard to see those problems persisting. If the Pacers aren't worried about Bynum's attitude then they shouldn't need to worry about Turners.
In terms of what he offers the Pacers on the floor, Turner is a huge upgrade over Granger no matter how you look at it. Offensively, Granger is shot, but Turner, a former No. 2 overall pick, is just 25 and entering his athletic prime. Unlike Granger, he can finish at and above the rim, and he is a much more versatile scorer than Granger, especially off the dribble.
With Luis Scola looking old at times, Ian Mahinmi unable to catch the ball, Andrew Bynum playing himself into shape and Lance Stephenson losing control more often than the Pacers would like, Turner offers a genuine scoring threat for the Pacers second unit and another decent ball handler and playmaker to take the pressure of Stephenson. At the very leasy he will be more consistent offensively than Granger.
On the other end of the floor, Turner is not a great defender, but he has the tools to be on the league's best defensive team. He'll get better, while Granger's already overrated defense will only get worse.
If everyone can stay healthy and become properly integrated into the system, the Pacers will have several options on the second unit. They can go with a traditional lineup of Watson, Stephenson, Turner, Scola, and Bynum, with Ian Mahinmi being a wild card who can sub in for Bynum to provide foul trouble relief or Scola to bolster the defense. Chris Copeland is also a wildcard who can sub in for Turner if the Pacers need more outside shooting or for Scola if they need a stretch four to provide a spark. As Turner is a solid ball handler and playmaker, the Pacers can also potentially insert a tall lineup of Stephenson, Turner, Copeland, Scola and Bynum (with Mahinmi as a substitute for either big).
As for Lavoy, a 6'9" forward-center, it's hard to envision him getting any minutes on a deep Pacers team, though having another big body who is only 25 is never a bad thing.
What the trade means for the salary cap and Lance Stephenson
Prior to the trade, the belief was that the Pacers would simply allow Granger's $14m contract to expire at the end of the season so they can afford to pay Paul George's new extension (which will likely become a mega contract because he's almost a lock to make an All-NBA team this season and trigger the Derrick Rose rule entitling him to 30% of the team's salary cap as opposed to 25%).
Re-signing Lance Stephenson is also a priority, but it's starting to look more and more difficult with each league-leading triple-double he racks up. The fact that Lance didn't make the All-Star team this year is good for the Pacers in terms lowering his value, but it's hard to see Born Ready (to get paid) re-signing with the Pacers for anything less than $8-10 million given his all-round production.
Both Turner, who makes $6.7m this season, and Allen, who makes $3m this season, will become restricted free agents at the end of the season, meaning the Pacers can effectively let both of them go to clear up cap space that will go towards George's new contract and efforts to re-sign Lance (it's pretty much a foregone conclusion that Allen will be gone). Andrew Bynum's contract is only for $1m, and if he plays above his value he could be hard to retain, and Orlando Johnson's waiving also leaves only an additional $1m off the books. To clear up more cap space, the Pacers may have to look to unload Luis Scola's $4.5m, Ian Mahinmi's $4m, Chris Copeland's $3m or potentially even George Hill's $8m.
Either way, with Paul George's contract poised to add another $12-14m to the book next season, it means the Pacers will have to find creative ways to keep Lance, and that already includes treating Turner as a half-season rental. On the other hand, you could also view Turner's addition to the Pacers as a message to Lance that he's not yet the irreplaceable superstar he thinks he is. If he doesn't continue to improve his attitude both on and off the floor or if he tries to price himself out of the Pacers' range, then as Larry Bird said, they'll simply have to find someone else.
What the trade means for Granger
There are reports that the 76ers could buy out the remainder of Granger's contract, in which case he could go to a contender like the San Antonio Spurs, the LA Clippers or even, shudder, the Miami Heat, for the rest of the season. No chance he could come back to the Pacers on a minimum contract?
That said, being a contract year and all in the back end of his career, Granger could choose to stay on a decimated Philly team to try and put up some respectable numbers for one final multi-million dollar contract. It's not clear whether he's able to even if he wants to, given the state of his knees, but more at least Granger will have plenty of minutes if he wants them in Philly. As for a potential return to Indiana next year, who knows?