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Pacers Make Tough Decision to Move Granger

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

February 20, 2014 | Updated 11:54 PM

In strict basketball terms, it was a good trade for the Pacers.

In emotional human terms, it was a horrible trade for Danny Granger.

Professional sports is a tough business, a bottom-line business, with the primary bottom line being winning. Larry Bird is a sensitive man who cares about people and their feelings, but he's paid to care mostly about winning. Thus, Granger was traded to Philadelphia on Thursday, while Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen won the lottery and joined a contender.

Bird also had to release one of his sentimental favorites, backup guard Orlando Johnson, to stay at the 15-man roster limit. Bird had drafted Johnson in the second round two summers ago, and awarded him a two-year guaranteed contract. Johnson showed promise the second half of last season, but his jump shot went awry and he had fallen out of the playing rotation.

PHOTO GALLERY: Danny Granger's Career Highlights

PHOTO GALLERY: Pacers Acquire Evan Turner

In short, the Pacers gave up an aging but still viable player (and a 2015 second-round draft pick) for two young ones with fresher legs and potential for improvement. Just where that potential will be realized – or not – remains to be seen, but for now it seems a favorable exchange for the Pacers, who also received a trade exception in the deal.

The trade came together less than half an hour before Thursday's 3 p.m. deadline when Philadelphia backed off its stated demand for a first-round pick and accepted a second-rounder instead. The tip-off for the last-minute nature of the trade was that Granger played 18 minutes in the Pacers' loss at Minnesota on Wednesday. Normally, players on the verge of being traded are left on the bench to avoid an injury that could cancel the deal.

Turner, the centerpiece of the swap, is productive, intriguing and provides flexibility for the Pacers on the court, and perhaps off. He's averaging a team-best 17.4 points, with the caveat of the 76ers' woeful 15-win record and their fast pace of play. He was the consensus national college player of the year at Ohio State in 2010, and the second pick in the draft that year but had not panned out well enough in first-year general manager Sam Hinkie's eyes to be offered an extension to his rookie contract at the Oct. 31 deadline.

He becomes a free agent this summer, but the Pacers can keep him for another season with a qualifying offer of $8.7 million. That means he could become an option if the Pacers are unable to sign free agent Lance Stephenson. Turner also could be re-signed and traded, or simply allowed to sign with another team. Regardless, the deal was made with the rest of this season in mind.

The trade received mostly favorable acceptance from NBA media when it was sprung on the public after Thursday's deadline, but you still have to feel for Granger. His timing turned out to be terrible, leaving him the lucrative but unfulfilling task of being the face of the franchise during its lean years. He arrived in 2005, a steal for the 17th pick in the draft, and was a rookie on a team still regarded as a title contender with veterans such as Jermaine O'Neal, Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, Austin Croshere and Jeff Foster. Artest's in-season trade demand, however, began a breakup and rebuilding process that persisted until last season – which Granger missed except for five games with knee injuries and a surgery.

PHOTO GALLERY: Orlando Johnson's Career Highlights

PHOTO GALLERY: Pacers Acquire Lavoy Allen

During that time, Granger averaged at least 18.7 points over five consecutive seasons, peaking at 25.8 in 2008-09, when he made his only All-Star appearance and was voted the team's Most Improved Player. He was the team's leading scorer all five of those seasons, and also became the first player in NBA history to lift his scoring average at least five points in three consecutive seasons.

Entering this season, Granger was regarded as a likely starter if he could regain his athleticism of previous seasons. He wasn't able to play until Dec. 31, however, by which time Lance Stephenson's play and the Pacers' record made it illogical to make a drastic lineup change.

It was then hoped that Granger would become the primary scorer off the Pacers' bench. He moved well and played without pain, but had yet to recover his jump shot. After making his delayed debut, he scored in double figures in eight of his first 10 games, but managed to do so in just two of his previous 10. He averaged 8.3 points in 29 appearances overall, shooting 36 percent from the field, 33 percent from three-point range and 96 percent from the foul line.

Turner shoots better from the field (43 percent) than Granger, but worse from three-point range (29 percent). He's an inch shorter (6-7), but a more flexible athlete who can score in a wider variety of ways, and at five years younger has fewer miles on his legs. He's also regarded as superior in pick-and-roll situations.

Allen, a 6-9 power forward, was averaging 5.2 points for the 76ers, hitting 44 percent of his shots. He was a second-round pick of the 76ers in 2011, and a rotational player throughout most of his three seasons there. He started 37 games last season, when he averaged 5.8 points. He's regarded primarily for his defense, but appears unlikely to fit into the Pacers' rotation unless an injury creates an opening.

Granger's future with the 76ers is unclear. He could be released, so that he can sign as a free agent with a playoff team. Or, he'll play out the season and hope to sign a free agent contract this summer. It was a harsh ending to his career in Indianapolis, but ultimately just another reminder of the nature of the business of basketball.

Winning trumps sentiment almost every time. Especially when you're trying to win a championship.

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