Nestled inside of a typically-great Bob Kravitz column about the return and iffy permanence Indiana Pacers swingman Danny Granger has with his team was a bit of a cruel gem from Pacers personnel el jefe Larry Bird. Bird, who drafted Granger back in 2005 and has presided over the rebirth of his top-ranked Pacer team from the front office, was far from withholding when he discussed why Granger, who has played just six NBA games since May of 2012 as of Sunday morning, typically starts so slowly at the beginning of an NBA season.
Will Granger struggle in his comeback? Absolutely, he'll struggle. He's missed nine months. Even when he's been healthy, he's always been a slow starter throughout his career.
There's a reason for that, according to the eternally honest Bird.
"He doesn't work hard enough (in the offseason)," Bird said. "He's not a guy who'll push himself to the brink like a lot of our guys do. He works hard but he doesn't push himself. That's why he starts slow every year and he just works his way back. Now this year, he's been hurt, so it's a different deal."
Wow, that’s … wow. That’s Larry Bird, I guess. The guy that once famously described former teammate Kevin McHale's training camp routine as "switching from Miller to Miller Lite" in anticipation of the season.
Bird went on to praise Granger’s “toughness,” while relaying that he felt as if his team “finally looked complete” on Friday night with Granger (who finished with five points on 1-7 shooting in his rusty return) out there in his season debut, but this was a pretty brutal assessment.
It’s an honest one, though. Bird isn’t looking to curry favor with Pacer fans in anticipation of letting the one-time All-Star leave as a free agent this summer, as most within Indianapolis and around the league understand that the Pacers aren’t in a position to pay the luxury tax, and re-signing Granger (alongside starting off guard Lance Stephenson) will undoubtedly put the small market Pacers into the luxury tax next season.
An NBA championship, which comes with the added bonus of scads of home playoff revenue, could possibly swing things, but as of now Granger (who is making $14.1 million in the final season of his contract) is a luxury Indiana can afford in the final year before Paul George’s contract extension kicks in. Bird told Kravitz that owner Herb Simon could possibly change his mind between now and the summer regarding the tax, whether that involves re-signing Granger or acquiring someone else via salary exception, but for now he’s just following orders.
He won’t chasing trades for Granger, either. Partially because Danny knows the team and players well and can contribute in an area Indiana needs help in – efficient, turnover-free outside shooting – but mostly because the team is perilously close to the luxury tax. Salaries have to nearly match in any NBA trade between teams over the cap, and with the Pacers less than $2 million under the luxury tax threshold, they can’t afford to bring in combined salaries much bigger than Granger’s. The franchise certainly can’t afford to bring in salary for next season either, with the team already set to pay nearly $66 million before extending Stephenson.
For now, Bird will happily (we can’t stress that enough, read the column) go with Granger. Chiding his offseason habits may sting Pacers fans a little, especially in the wake of the revelation of Paul George’s dogged offseason workouts, but that should hardly matter to a fan base that has been able to watch the best team in the Eastern Conference so far in 2013-14.
Granger has a lot to prove after barely playing since the Pacers were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs back in 2012. Apparently his summertime plans never really won over his longtime boss throughout his Pacer career, and it took Larry Bird’s unending candid streak to reveal that.
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