Danny Granger grew up in a modest-sized household – parents, an older sister, a younger brother – in a rough patch down in Metairie, La., outside New Orleans. But Danny Granger, Sr. came from a big crew, nine brothers and sisters. His son, the Indiana Pacers’ forward, has “about 30 cousins.” And when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, a whole bunch of them left devastated homes to move into the NBA rookie’s home up in Indianapolis.
So Granger knows a thing or two about fitting in. Despite his status as the family’s most famous member – beyond several square blocks of Metairie, anyway, where Danny Sr.’s tough-love reputation still resonates – Granger gets it that it isn’t always about him. Which should serve him well now.
The Pacers are in full sprint, nearly three-quarters of the way through the 2012-13 schedule. Having won 10 of their last 12 heading into Thursday night’s home game against the Los Angeles Clippers (7 ET, League Pass), with a 24-5 record at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, they are gaining on the Eastern Conference. They’ve got a breakthrough All-Star in Paul George, a starting lineup second to none, a brash coach in Frank Vogel daring them along and no fear of the Miami Heat, based on the teams’ six-game conference semifinals series last May and a 2-0 mark head-to-head this season.
Enter Granger, the Pacers’ five-time leading scorer and one of their leaders, period, over his first seven seasons in the league. That took a little time – Granger arrived just as Reggie Miller was exiting – but he became Indiana’s shot-taker and shot-maker, the closest thing they had to a go-to guy and a voice among them on and off the floor.
This is going to take time, too. Granger is back after essentially nine months away from the game, at least by NBA standards. Until the weekend in Detroit, he hadn’t played since that Heat series, hobbled by patellar tendinitis in his left knee.
In two games, Granger has been shackled by a minutes limit (20 per game) and hampered by adjustments to the pace, the flow, various tweaks in Indiana’s game in his absence and, of course, rust. “There’s a lot of rust, too,” he said with a slight laugh in a telephone interview Wednesday.
In Indianapolis terms, Granger is just now rolling from the garage onto the Brickyard, about 150 fast, frenzied laps into the race. He’s thinking, “Gentleman, start your engine!” and rolling under a yellow flag while his teammates and their opponents already are rushing toward the checkered one.
Things, as you would expect, are a little out of sync.
“I’m about maybe 60-65 percent of where I need to be,” Granger said. “Part of my rehab process was going to be practicing, and we don’t really practice at this stage of the season. The issue I’m still dealing with, with my knee, is my tendon has to adjust to new stresses. But we don’t really have ‘practices’ now, so we have to do it in games. This is literally my rehab.”
It shows. At Detroit Saturday, Granger played 18:36, got up 10 shots and made … one. He logged 18:30 off the bench again against Golden State Tuesday and shot 1-of-7. The Pacers won both games, though, which is the greater concern.
Well, that and the fact that nothing changed in the team’s dynamic. George didn’t regress or defer, going back into his hole like Punxsutawney Phil for six more weeks of development. No one-upsmanship, no snide remarks from any corner of the locker room about pecking order.
What some among Pacers fans, and many in the media, have been wondering about – drama driven by a diva Danny, reasserting his rightful place within the team – hasn’t happened. And won’t, if Granger is good to his word.
“You have to be cautious with it, because when the team’s in a rhythm – they’ve all got their roles and whatnot – and you add another piece that hasn’t played, it’s a learning curve,” he said. “For myself and my teammates. Obviously I want to help the team but at the same time, you want to do it in a way that they’re not taking a step backwards.”
Through much of his career, Granger helping the Pacers meant Granger getting, taking and making shots. From his third season through last spring, he averaged 16.6 field-goal attempts (a high of 191. in 2008-09) and 21.6 points. But in his absence, those shots got divvied up: 3.6 more for David West compared to 2011-12, 4.3 more for George Hill, 4.4 for Lance Stephenson and 5.3 more George, who emerged in this season’s first half as a potential franchise guy at both ends.
Add them up and that’s 17.6 shots per game, for an offense that has dropped a tick (from 81.4 FGA to 81.0).
How do the Pacers cut in Granger – a rusty Granger – without tinkering too much what’s been working? It’s a tough question, on par with the one facing the 6-foot-8 veteran himself: How sensitive must Granger be to his team’s finely tuned operation and changes, without being so sensitive that he doesn’t fully assert himself and provide the help he could?
“That line … I don’t know,” Granger said. “I think I will approach it at one point when I’m truly healthy. Right now, we’re not there yet.”
West has talked of the matchup problems foes will face, adding someone of Granger’s size and shooting range at small forward. George has said Indiana’s new identity is firmed up enough to handle Granger’s return. Vogel said that, to a degree, his use of Granger and George – the wing players on offense – will be interchangeable.
Stephenson, with 49 starts, already has played nearly four times as much as he did last season, so if/when he comes off the bench, he’ll do so established in the rotation. Then there’s the great relief that Granger’s outside shooting can provide, spreading defenses, creating space for Roy Hibbert and West, lanes for George and the guards.
Still, it’s a fine line for Granger to walk on a week knee.
“This isn’t a typical season for myself,” he said. “I didn’t have the preseason, I haven’t played in nine months. So it’s really, whatever I can do this season to give us the best shot at winning a championship, that’s what I have to do.
“We only have 20-some games left. As a veteran, I know how to approach things. If it comes down to whether I’m hurting the team because I’m not healthy, I’ll evaluate that as well.”