Even without Danny Granger, they have remained within striking distance of the top spot in the Eastern Conference, in part because Miami has not approached the dominance expected, but also because the Pacers have played well in the absence of their leading scorer of the previous five seasons.
The question thus becomes: Is the team one bold move away from bridging that gap?
The roster’s biggest need is for one more scorer, preferably a perimeter sniper, a threat that would space the floor for the big men while helping deliver some punch to the second unit.
In other words: Danny Granger.
“Every time we talk about the trade deadline we just keep talking about the guy we need to acquire is Danny Granger,” Frank Vogel said last night. “And hopefully that all goes smoothly.”
GRANGER PROGRESSING TOWARD RETURN
So far, so good in that department. Granger has increased the frequency and intensity of his workouts, but has not yet been cleared for full contact. Vogel said the goal is for Granger to be in uniform before the All-Star break but there is no firm timetable.
Granger’s return would have a domino effect on the roster strengthening both units. Assuming he would quickly return to the starting lineup, Granger would push Lance Stephenson to the second unit – which desperately needs his playmaking, energy and aggression.
One problem is there is no certainty about Granger’s return. If they stand pat and Granger is unable to return to form – a remote but distinct possibility – the Pacers will be left holding the bag.
Of course, it’s also possible Granger himself could become the bait. If he is able to show he is physically sound before the All-Star break, and thus in advance of the Feb. 21 deadline, he might become the team’s most valuable commodity.
SMALL STACK OF BARGAINING CHIPS
The Pacers certainly are not going to trade Paul George, David West or George Hill.
Roy Hibbert would have some value on the market but that has been mitigated by his dramatic decline in productivity this season.
If you want to make a bold move, can it be done with the likes of Tyler Hansbrough or Gerald Green? You know the answer.
It really comes back to Granger and/or Hibbert, and neither is in position to attract anything close to full value.
How the team takes advantage of its current stretch of road games – which brings Miami Friday, Chicago Monday and Atlanta Tuesday in a parade of contenders – could influence management’s stance.
Get on a roll, creep closer to the Heat, and all of a sudden the scent of a deep playoff run could become intoxicating.
Struggle a bit, threaten to slip deeper into the pack in the East, and a sense of desperation might develop.
Either way, the next three weeks are going to be the most compelling, interesting — and ultimately meaningful — of this season.