If anyonedoubted Larry Bird in the offseason when he returned as the Pacers’ teampresident and stated that he is bent on putting the finishing touches to theroster he architected years ago into a title contender, they’re surelybelievers now.
Birdsurprised many at the traded deadline when he packaged is former franchiseplayer Danny Granger and a 2015 second round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers inexchange for Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen.
It wasBird after all who drafted Granger back in 2005 and watched the formerUniversity of New Mexico standout blossom into an All-Star and become the faceand leader of the Pacers as well as the lone bright spot during some of thefranchise’s more trying times.
Ipersonally thought Granger would be afforded the opportunity to chase a ringthis season with the team he carried on his shoulders for years and did so asthe consummate pro, which wasn’t always the case with the previous era ofPacers that contributed to alienating a once rabid local fan base. Granger hasbecome a huge part of the community in Indiana in his nine seasons as a Pacer,and definitely deserved the chance to win a title with the team, if not forenduring several losing seasons, but for being a major influence in turning theteam’s negative culture around.
Unfortunatelyfor Granger, his boss cares more about winning a title for his home statefranchise than nostalgia; and when the opportunity of upgrading made itselfavailable, Bird pulled the trigger like one of his many cold-bloodedbuzzer-beating game-winners during his playing days.
But justhow much does Bird’s move propel Indiana closer to hoisting that coveted LarryO’Brien trophy in June? Allow me to analyze and speculate.
The 76ers’motivations are obvious and simple: They are rebuilding and dumping salary andare thinking past this season, which is why Granger’s expiring contract thatpays him over $14 million this season fits perfectly in their plans. Also,their chances of securing one of the top picks and hopes of getting someonelike Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins improved substantially after getting ridof their top scorer in Turner. Now the 76ers can lose by 60 points rather thanjust 40.
ThePacers, on the other hand, have one goal in mind: Win now. And with Grangershowing he is but a shell of his former self, the tough decision had to bemade. Granger is averaging only 8.3 points through 29 games and is shootingaround 36% from the field. He has lost his explosiveness, his ability to stopon the dime, make quick cuts and change direction and most his shot have beenflat and short as a result of not getting enough lift from his legs. PerhapsGranger can still bounce back from his knee injury once he gets back in better gameshape, but the Pacers just couldn’t afford to wait.
In thisera of the new collective bargaining agreement, the Pacers are under the gunwith most of their money committed to their starters, and face the possibilityof losing Lance Stephenson to free agency in the offseason. For small marketteams like the Pacers, going over the luxury tax threshold just isn’t an option(think Oklahoma City when they dealt James Harden).
Which iswhy - emotional ties aside - Bird deserves much praise with this savvy tradefor various reasons. Not only did the Pacers get another young and live pair oflegs in the 25-year-old Turner, they also did so while saving some coin in theprocess (Turner and Lavoy Allen’s salary combined is about $4 million less thanGranger’s). And since Turner can also become an unrestricted free agent, hedoesn’t jeopardize their ability to offer Stephenson the best contract they canin the offseason. More so, Turner provides somewhat of a back-up plan ifStephenson decides to dip for more money somewhere else. The same concept holdstrue with the Andrew Bynum signing, whom the Pacers acquired at a discountafter being waived by Chicago.
The Pacersare definitely in the “here and now” and are gearing up for another EasternConference Finals showdown with the Miami Heat. Frankly, it’s hard to envisionGranger being a factor in that series just a few months away given his newlimitations, on top of the possibility that he could go back on the injuredlist like he did after just a few preseason games in early October.
Now let’sswitch our attention to Turner, the former second overall pick in the 2010draft, ahead of number 10 pick Paul George and the aforementioned Stephensonwho was the 40th pick by the Pacers out of that same draft class.
Being fromthe Midwest, it’s hard for me not to remember Turner’s exploits at Ohio Statewhere he won College Player of the Year honors in 2010. As a pro, however,Turner got off to a rough start in Philly, before finally showing signs of histrue potential last season in his third year by averaging career best numbersof 13.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game as a full-time starter.
Thisseason, Turner has averaged 17.4 points through 54 games as the 76ers’ leadguy, but has gotten a lot of criticism for his efficiency and shot selection.But anyone who has paid close attention to the entire league would recognizethat the toll of having to be the main defensive focus on an erratic andstruggling team could bear down on any player, which is the case for Turner ashe labored through making the 76ers look respectable this season.
Turner’s43% field goal shooting percentage is still better than Granger’s, so justimagine how he’ll fare off the bench for the Pacers with less pressure on himwhile seeing the most open looks and lanes he’s ever seen in his entirebasketball career?
And let’s not forget that the Pacers were winningwithout Granger. Bringing in Turner simply adds another high IQ player who cancreate his own shots and fresh young legs off the bench for the Heat to dealwith. Remember his 26 points at the beginning of the season when the 76ersshocked the Heat? And take in consideration the fact that Turner simply can’twait to play in games that matter again and goes from planning his post-regularseason vacation to chasing a ring.
“Definitely excited. Still shocked; I thought thetrade deadline was over. I was actually setting up my postseason (vacation)with my agent’s assistant and pretty much when I was telling her the days Iwanted to go. (Then) she said, ‘Well, no we can’t book (those days), you’vejust got traded,’ the Indy Star quoted Turner saying after finding out aboutthe trade.
The one issue I’m concerned about is chemistry.Granger was a big brother to many of the Pacers’ young players and sacrificedhis ego in embracing his new role off the bench and pushed for the team’s goalsof winning a title over his personal motivations. Can Turner do the same?
In the end, the biggest player the Pacers addedto their fold this season isn’t Luis Scola, C.J. Watson, Andrew Bynum or EvanTurner. It’s Larry Bird.
And if his playing career wasn’t evidence enough,the 2012 NBA Executive of the Year is reminding people just how much of acompetitor he is. Instead of sleeping on his laurels, Bird has addressed histeam’s weaknesses without compromising their future. The only problem is thathe won’t be on the court to help the Pacers actually win it all. Bird has donehis part in his return as the Pacers’ team president and kept his word on doingwhatever it takes to set his team up for success. It’s time for the players tofinish the job.
Dennis is on Twitter @dRealSource.