All that Mt. Rushmore talk over All-Star Weekend, and the “No Vacancy” sign it flashed at so many of the NBA’s legendary players, might require some reconnoitering after all.
This Larry Bird, the one we got Thursday afternoon at the league’s trade deadline, is the one I’d want chiseled on my mountainside.
Anyone who has forgotten, and perhaps some tender fans who never knew, the razor’s edge that Bird brought to the court as a Hall of Fame player for Boston (and to the bench in his subsequent Coach of the Year work for Indiana) got a crash course in arguably the day’s most stunning move. Bird, the Pacers’ president, agreed to a deal sending veteran forward Danny Granger to the Philadelphia 76ers for wing Evan Turner, big LaVoy Allen and, according to various reports, a future second-round pick.
One of the East’s two big dogs, one of the four A-list contenders (as of Thursday morning) to win the championship this spring – and it wasn’t enough for Larry Joe Bird, cutthroat competitor. Despite Granger’s elder statesman status in their locker room, despite what seemed over 2013-14′s first half to be a pat hand, Bird felt the Pacers needed more. And just as with the addition a few weeks back of Cavs center — and potential slacker and even cancer – Andrew Bynum, in the name of winning and matchups, Bird didn’t blink – he fixed something that others didn’t realize was broke.
Broke, at least in terms of chasing down a Larry O’Brien trophy, anyway.
The sentiment of welcoming Granger back into the fold this season, after his knee injury a year ago and a calf issue in the fall? The payoff that he surely felt, again being part of the year-by-year march toward a title (even if his new bench role didn’t fit perfectly after those years of solid service as Indiana’s leading scorer)? Set aside. Weighed and rejected.
Less than two months from now, the Pacers will hit the postseason ready to accept nothing less than a trip to the Finals. Approximately three months from now, most everyone expects to see them locked in a death match with the Miami Heat, the two-time defending champs through whom the challengers must go.
“I didn’t think Granger would last that long, especially after Paul George became who he was,” said LeBron James before his mathcup with Kevin Durant and the Thunder. “It wasn’t surprising at all. I think they got a very good player. Obviously Granger is a really good player. He hasn’t found his niche after coming back after the injury, but I think Evan Turner is a really good player for them.”
This move was about money, sure, as almost all NBA transactions are these days. But it also was about facing the Heat, with a younger, livelier wing (Turner) and an extra big (Allen) for Indiana’s showdown with James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the rest.
Granger is a superior 3-point shooter, in particular, with greater range and a quicker more efficient game overall, but he wasn’t thriving off the bench (35.9 FG%). His numbers per-36 minutes were 13.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists, compared to Turner’s 17.9, 6.1 and 3.8. Defensively, Granger brings more bulk and willingness.
The 6-foot-7 Turner, a fourth-year draft mate of Indiana All-Star Paul George, has been logging heavy minutes for the Sixers, getting 15.4 shots per game and playing at a 13.3 PER level, compared to Granger’s 10.4. Turner can be a restricted free agent this summer – though not the Pacers’ top priority, with Lance Stephenson also hitting the market – and might not welcome a dip in playing time and scoring chances while trying to boost his price tag.
But the league knows what Turner can and can’t do for a team headed nowhere; he can open some eyes and maybe wallets by helping the Pacers, from both ends of the court, get where they want to go.
That’s what this season is all about for Indiana, that’s what Bird – the guy who often said he hates to lose more than he likes to win – is all about, too.