One game shy of the 50-game checkpoint, I’m liking this whole Indiana Pacers fan thing. Even though the team is losing, they play an entertaining brand of ball, they’re involved in a lot of close games, they seem like a decent group of guys, and I’ve had the privilege to watch Danny Granger turn into a superstar almost game-by-game.
A few other notes on the team as we approach All-Star break:
1. I’ve created and named myself president of the Society of Black Troy Murphy Fans. Look, I know he played at Notre Dame and I know he rocked an awful mustache that was an insult to 1980s-era Barry Bonds, but we need more members. So far it’s just me and Quinn Buckner.
2. Marquis Daniels moves brilliantly without the ball, but he’d average at least 4-6 more points if he ever decided to finish strong. I’m not sure if ‘Quis has zero hops or if he just doesn’t want to jump, but almost every time he gets to the rim he takes a weak reverse layup where he gets two inches off the ground. I can’t find the stats, but I’d be willing to bet he’s had more shots blocked than anyone on the team.
3. I’m starting to emulate Dime’s own The Jed and create reasons to like every player on the team. Seriously, you can stick the worst player in the world in a trade rumor involving his Celtics, and Jed will automatically start carving that guy’s name on the Most Improved Player trophy. When the C’s signed Patrick O’Bryant, Jed talked himself into the “He’s young and he’s got size” argument, even when the obvious way to go was, “He’s so bad, Kendrick Perkins‘ self-confidence can only improve.” With the Pacers, I’m finding reasons to like everyone on the team, even perennial headache-starter T.J. Ford.
But the real reason I wanted to use this space is to propose an idea: I think the Pacers need to judiciously rest Granger over the next couple weeks to keep him healthy for the All-Star Game. Now before you write this off as patently ridiculous — and believe me, I had to convince myself I wasn’t nuts when it first popped into my head — consider where I’m coming from:
Granger has been playing on a sore knee all season, sitting out a game here and there, most recently last week against Milwaukee. (The Pacers are actually 3-1 without him.) In these past couple weeks, though, the knee is obviously bothering him more and more. Granger has looked slower and less explosive; even the Indy announcers have noticed his timing has been a bit off and he’s missed some plays he usually makes. In Tuesday night’s loss to the Wolves, Granger had a crunch-time finger roll blocked by Randy Foye, a play he would normally finish. He’s already been missing practices and shootarounds more often. And maybe it’s just because Jameer Nelson, Chris Paul, Gerald Wallace, Chauncey Billups and Andrew Bynum have all gotten hurt recently, but I’m getting worried that a more significant knee injury is right around the corner for Danny.
At 19-30, Indiana has the third-worst record in the East (ahead of Toronto and Washington). The playoffs aren’t completely out of the picture given the conference they’re in, but even the biggest Pacers fan would have to admit it’s unlikely. (I’ll gladly eat crow if the Pacers snatch the eighth seed, but the way they continually blow games in crunch time is bothersome.) So giving your star a night off here and there isn’t even as crucial as, say, the Spurs or Celtics resting the Big Three.
Why is it so important that Granger make it to All-Star? Larry Bird and Granger have both talked about how Danny’s All-Star selection is just as big for the franchise as it is for him, especially with the organization trying to reclaim its place among the NBA’s higher ranks. In terms of landing national TV games, gaining appeal with potential free agents and the like, it’s all about being relevant. And the more Granger is visible during All-Star Weekend — he’s been named to the Three-Point Shootout as well — the more the Pacers benefit. So at this point in the season, is it more important for Granger to make it to All-Star in one piece and perform on that stage, or for him to play in some relatively meaningless games between now and then? Looking at the schedule, Indiana has the Sixers, Magic, Wizards, Cavs and Bucks leading up to All-Star. If I’m Bird, I’m imploring coach Jim O’Brien to sit Granger at least for the Washington and Milwaukee games.
In Tuesday’s Indianapolis Star, Granger said he definitely wants to play in the All-Star Game even if he’s not at full strength, but doesn’t want to sit out any games, either.
“I think if we were in a different position as far as playoff positioning (I would consider it),” Granger said. “But we’re making a push and this is a very important stretch. Even if I’m not 100 percent, 50-60 percent is probably better than nothing.”
I’m glad Danny has that kind of focus and sees the playoffs as right in his grasp, but I have to look big picture here. For the good of the entire organization, as well as himself, it’s best he take a couple nights off to ensure he’s not just a spectator in Phoenix.