The Indiana Pacers made a terrific run through the Eastern Conference this season, taking the defending champion Miami Heat to the limit in the conference finals and establishing themselves as a legitimate contender in the process. Perhaps most impressive was that they did so without the services of wing scorer Danny Granger, the man many would have tabbed as the team's best player prior to this season. Granger managed only five games and 74 total minutes of play this season while suffering through a left knee injury, and his presumed return next season should give the Pacers even more options.
The question, of course, is how easily he can be re-integrated into a team that grew while he was on the sidelines. Granger, for his part, expects to start when he comes back. From Zak Keefer for the Indianapolis Star (via PBT):
But the majority of the talk Wednesday was on Danny Granger, the former All-Star who missed all but five games this season with a knee injury. Following the Game 7 loss, Granger said he expected to be back in the starting lineup at the start of next season.
Vogel was asked if he saw things the same way. “Probably,” he said. “We gotta see how he returns. My anticipation is that he’s going to have a full recovery. I told him if he returns to full health and the ability that he’s exhibited throughout his career, then he’ll be the starter.”
Vogel added that he challenged Lance Stephenson, who in Granger’s stead had a breakout year, to “not let that happen.”
There's no basketballular reason this setup couldn't work. Granger and newly minted star Paul George have played together on the wing before, and their skills complement each other pretty well. George's best strength has always been his versatility, particularly on defense. The Pacers shouldn't have much problem defending both shooting guards and small forwards, with Stephenson providing another option after the strides he took this year.
Yet there is a potential problem. As a former All-Star who stands to make more than $14 million next season (also the last year of his contract), Granger has certain expectations for both his own offensive production and his own sense of importance to the team. For the most part, he developed that approach over a time when George was not the All-Star he now is. With George due for a likely max-level extension to start in 2014-15, it's unlikely that the Pacers can pay both wings and Roy Hibbert (who already got his four-year max last summer).
Given the events of this summer, it seems fairly certain that the Pacers would choose George over Granger if forced to pick one. In other words, their new hierarchy may not match up with Granger's own belief in his worth. While it's likely he'll start, his role could be diminished.
There's no reason for the Pacers not to welcome Granger back as a sorely missed team member, because he's very talented and figures to make them more dangerous regardless of the scope of his role. However, these potential complications should serve as reminders that talent never adds up in a purely accumulative manner. Players must fit together and understand their roles to reach maximum effectiveness, and that process can often be more difficult than expected.
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