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Changes Will Alter Pacers - But How?

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

February 21, 2014

Change comes quickly in the NBA. Early Thursday afternoon, Danny Granger was a Pacers player, a nine-year veteran and a former face of the franchise in the process of resurrecting himself as a vital reserve.

Less than 24 hours later all of his likenesses had been removed from the Bankers Life Fieldhouse lobby, his T-shirts and jerseys had been discounted in the gift shop, and he had made a quick trip through the practice gymnasium to say goodbye to now-former teammates and staff members. He exchanged a hand slap and a quick man-hug with the players, who quickly went back to the business of getting up shots after practice.

RELATED: Pacers Make Tough Decision to Move Granger

And so it goes. A veteran and a young player, Orlando Johnson, are gone. Two new players – Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen – are in. They'll join practice on Sunday and be in uniform on Tuesday against the Lakers. This sort of thing happens frequently in the NBA, but this one had more sentiment attached than most.

Granger had been the Pacers' leading scorer for five consecutive seasons through 2011-12, and an All-Star and Most Improved Player award winner in 2009. After sitting out all but five games last season with knee injuries and an eventual surgery, it seemed he could get his just reward this season as a reserve on a title contender.

He also had served as a mentor to Paul George, and in essence passed a baton to him last season.

“It's very emotional for me,” Paul George said. “Danny's been by my side even before I was drafted here.”

But here's the thing.

George also is friends with Turner. They became acquainted during the pre-draft process in 2010, when Turner was the second player selected and George the 10th.

“We're great friends,” George said. “We talked yesterday and he's excited to be here.

“Evan is a big-time player and a player that plays well in big-time games.”

So, yes, the Pacers will miss Granger and wish him well and all that, and in some intangible ways they'll miss Johnson even more. But if Turner and Allen make them a better team? Ciao, baby. Thursday's transaction was another reminder of team president Larry Bird's championship-or-bust mentality, and the players share it.

“Whatever helps the team is good for all of us,” Lance Stephenson said.

“We want it now. That's the message he brings us by making that trade. And we're going to get it. We're going to work hard and accomplish all of our goals now. We're not going to wait for it.”

Coach Frank Vogel drove to Granger's home Thursday evening to reminisce and say thanks. He wonders if he would be the Pacers' coach today if not for Granger's support when he took over the head coaching position midway through the 2010-11 season, when Granger averaged 20.5 points, seven more than anyone else on the roster. He believes Granger will truly make his comeback next season, after he's had more time to recover from last April's knee surgery.

Vogel also talked with Turner, though.

“He's thrilled,” Vogel said, breaking into a smile. “He's on Cloud 9. He knew there was a possibility he could be leaving Philadelphia, but to land here, a place where players want to play now, and compete what we're competing for, he's ecstatic.”

Vogel considers Allen a valuable addition as well, a “real serviceable big, and you can never have too many bigs who can play.”

The trade appears a clear winner for the Pacers on the court. The question remains how it plays out in a locker room that probably has been the most harmonious in the franchise's NBA history over the past two seasons. That's where the loss of Johnson will have an impact. He was the most enthusiastic and positive member of the reserves, a mature-beyond-his-years presence who was loved by everyone with a connection to the team.

Granger likely will get another chance to join a contending team, perhaps even this season. Johnson's future is uncertain.

“I was even more hurt with O.J. (leaving),” George said, after discussing Granger. “O.J. was one of the guys who kept our locker room together. He was just a great guy to have in the locker room. He was a part of your team regardless of the minutes he was getting. He kept the same spirit as if he was our go-to guy. He was always positive, he was always backing guys up.”

RELATED: Johnson made an impact

With the addition of Andrew Bynum on Feb. 1, the Pacers have added three players and subtracted two in three weeks, a rare shakeup for a team that has owned the NBA's best record part of this season and is clinging to a small lead over Miami in the Eastern Conference. The chemistry will change. How much, and in what ways, remains to be seen.

“Anytime you add a single player or lose a single player, your chemistry is altered,” Vogel said. “For us, our positive chemistry is an achievement, it's something we work towards. Every move along the way over the last 3 ½ years has been, OK we've got a new player, let's re-establish that chemistry.”

How that plays out could determine the Pacers' postseason fate.

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