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Pacers Will Deliver Early Answer On Status

The Indiana Pacers finished last season with the fifth-best record in the NBA and gave the eventual-champion Miami Heat a difficult challenge in the conference semifinals. With the starting five returning, another year and training camp under Frank Vogel and a maturing nucleus, the Pacers appear ready to take the next step towards elite status.

During the lockout-shortened 66-game season, the Pacers were very good at a number of things. It’s not an official statistic and remains one hard to gauge despite medical advancement, but tremendous health was one of their greatest assets.

The Pacers had nine players play 60 or more games, including starters David West, Paul George, Roy Hibbert and Danny Granger.

Indiana added to a thin bench in the offseason, but they have already been dealt a more significant blow than they were in all of last year before the new season has even officially begun.

The Pacers announced on Tuesday morning that Granger, the team’s longest-tenured player and presumed leader, will be out indefinitely with a lingering left knee injury.

Granger has battled a number of injuries over the course of his career, but knees are scary and he has only missed seven games over the last two seasons. The 29-year-old isn’t the typical No. 1 on a playoff contender, but that is the way this team is built. It remains to be seen exactly how much time he’ll miss – “indefinitely” is a frightening word – but his absence will answer one of the biggest questions entering the new NBA season.

Are the Pacers ready for elite status?

With Derrick Rose sidelined, the Central Division is Indiana’s for the taking. Seemingly, only the Heat are head and shoulders above the Pacers in the Eastern Conference. The Nets will need time to gel. The Celtics have watched Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce age another year. The Knicks are already dealing with injuries of their own. 

That’s certain with Granger on the court, but the forecast becomes cloudy without him.

In the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s announcement, Granger admitted that the knee was something he’d have to deal with all season. He missed the first five games of the preseason and before the diagnosis went south, the belief was that he’d miss time periodically through the season.

“They’re telling me the pain can’t do anything else to my knee,” he told Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star. “I’m going to have to play through the pain, but it hurts.”

You can take the developments over the last few days two ways. Either the Pacers are putting Granger on the shelf now in hopes that his knee will be more consistently healthy later in the season, or the injury is more serious than we have been led to believe.

Having covered the NBA and the Pacers since Granger’s rookie season, I can’t see him watching too many games from the sideline if playing on the knee doesn’t put him in risk of further injuring it. If I were a betting man, I’d bet that Granger will miss 16 games – the entire month of November.

If the team philosophy that Larry Bird and David Morway built and Donnie Walsh and Kevin Pritchard maintained this summer by re-signing Hibbert and Hill is as strong as it seems, plugging a Granger-side hole won’t be a problem, right?

Over the last two seasons, the Pacers are 2-5 without Granger. He averaged 18.7 points per game in 2012, production that unproven newcomers Gerald Green and D.J. Augustin will have to help make up. There will also undoubtedly be more opportunities for Hill, George, West and Hibbert.

West, who became the glue that held the Pacers together early on in his first season with the team, will become even more important as a leader with Granger sidelined.

However, he cannot provide the outside shooting that Granger does. Hill and George shot 36.7% and 38.5% from deep, respectively, last season but no one spaces the floor for the team like Granger. He shot 38.1% from three-point land on 5.2 attempts per game.

Vogel has said that Green will see more time with Granger out. The 26-year-old, who is in the midst of a career resurgence, is a 36.6% career shooter from deep. His numbers from 31 games with the Nets last year, 39.1% on 3.5 attempts, are more promising.

We knew the Pacers weren’t going to endure the season without an important cog missing a significant period of time. The odds just weren’t in their favor. What no one expected was that a blow would come so early on and with so much uncertainty surrounding it.

The bright side is that it won’t take long for us to find out if the Pacers can deal with adversity and expectations after excelling without either last year.

 

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