It seemed like as close to a foregone conclusion as you can have in major professional sports. The aging veteran with more than $60 million in career earnings, hoping to play meaningful minutes in June. The vast abyss of a franchise, their roster deconstructed to the core and without the slightest hope of sniffing playoff basketball.
The Sixers acquired Granger merely to satisfy their desperation obtain value for Evan Turner, continue hauling in their Scrooge McDuck fortune's worth of second-round picks and realize their goal of fielding the worst collection of talent in NBA history. This was all part of grandmaster Sam Hinkie's plan. Hit the salary floor by acquiring Granger's deal, save the owners some coin in a buyout and go foraging into the ping-pong ball forest.
But nearly a week after last Thursday's trade deadline, Granger is still technically a Sixer. Sure, he hasn't suited up for the team. The overwhelming odds remain he never will. Granger has requested a buyout, per Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer and multiple other sources, and the team seems inclined to give him one. He's yet to report to the Sixers since the trade, with his representatives talking to Hinkie and management behind closed doors about the situation.
“In the next short period of time, maybe even in the next 24 hours an announcement will be made on the direction our situation with Danny Granger will go,” coach Brett Brown said, via Dei Lynam of CSN Philly.
That screams impending buyout. But the reality of the situation behind closed doors is far more complicated than it seems, with multiple people with different agendas trying to create the most advantageous break.
The Sixers want to get out of as much of Granger's contract as possible. Hinkie already pulled off a nifty circumvention of the NBA's salary floor rules, pushing Philly over the threshold at the last possible minute.
While the Pacers have already paid more than half of Granger's $14.02 million salary for 2013-14, his entire hold gets placed on Philly's cap. That means instead of redistributing the unspent money to players currently on the roster—as NBA rules state teams under the floor must do—the owners get to pocket the unspent coin.
Every penny the Sixers save in Granger buyout talks is another in ownership's pocket, as his cap hold remains on the sheet even after a buyout. Joshua Harris, the Sixers' principal owner, isn't known around league circles as a cheap guy, but it has to be easier for him to swallow this terrible roster while making a handsome profit rather than staring at the bottom line.
Granger is owed roughly $4 million for the remainder of this season. I doubt anyone is playing hardball at the negotiation table, but it's a lot easier for Hinkie to play in his tanktastic playground if he's giving Harris an extra million bucks.
The situation for Granger is far simpler. He wants to win. There's no denying that. Last season, he watched on as the organization he helped rebuild pushed the Heat to Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals from the sideline. This season, as that same organization sits with the best record in basketball and looks primed to challenge Miami's throne once more, the Pacers dealt him to the league's least-talented team.
Granger went from eating Ruth's Chris to the dollar menu. And he would very much like to go back eating steak, please and thank you.
But Granger's desire to extricate himself from the City of Brotherly Love to a championship contender has its own series of question marks. This summer, Granger becomes an unrestricted free agent at one of the lowest points in his career. Where many his age with his resume would be preparing to sign their last big contract, Granger is draped in red flags.
He'll be 31 in April, has missed more than 100 games the last two seasons with injuries and hasn't touched his All-Star form this season. Coming off the bench regularly for the first time since his rookie campaign, Granger is shooting just 35.9 percent overall and 33 percent beyond the arc. Indiana scored nearly five points fewer per 100 possessions with Granger on the floor this season, scoring at a bottom-five rate.
The injuries have also taken Granger down from a mediocre-at-best defender to glaringly below average in Frank Vogel's system. Though Granger's overall splits are pretty good defensively, Vogel often stuck Granger on the team's worst player when he could. The potential to develop him into a solid defender just isn't there anymore.
Granger's foray into free agency is an interesting lingering subplot in this mix. He desperately wants to play for a contender. The key word there is play. Granger won't have any shortage of suitors once a theoretical buyout is completed, but he also won't have any allies. As ESPN's Marc Stein noted, there is a mutual interest with the Spurs, who would probably be the likeliest landing spot at this point.
But Gregg Popovich isn't beholden to Granger in the same way Vogel was. There's no existing loyalty. If Granger can't help or struggles from the field, Pop isn't the type who will hesitate to pull him from the rotation. Neither is Erik Spoelstra, nor Doc Rivers, nor Scott Brooks. Granger is a rental player meant to help take their teams over the hump, not someone who helped build the infrastructure the way he was in Indiana.
That's a harsh way to put it, but Granger won't receive a lucrative contract for just being a part of a title-contending team. He needs playing-time guarantees—expect a ton of open-season tampering here, none of which will bother the Sixers. And even then, Granger must consider whether he'd rather give away money to come off the bench for a contender or potentially reap huge rewards by having carte blanche in Philly.
The Sixers are in full tank mode. Their front office cannot put it in those words exactly, but Hinkie probably wouldn't bat an eye if they lost the remainder of their games. While that's a stark dichotomy to what is going on in Philly, Granger would also have infinitely more freedom to put up gaudy stats down the stretch.
The Sixers' current wing rotation consists of James Anderson, Elliot Williams and Tony Wroten. Even a diminished Granger is a better player than all three and would instantly step into the rotation.
From there, he would get to play with a young point guard in Michael Carter-Williams who is dying for competency anywhere and in Brown's uptempo system. The Sixers play at by far the league's fastest pace, which by itself has helped goose up the counting stats across the board.
Could 25 or so games of Granger starting and being a somewhat primary option rejuvenate interest over the summer? It's hard to tell. But the stats his agent puts in front of teams in July would certainly look better in Philly than anywhere else.
Ultimately, that point is probably moot. The Granger deal will get done by Saturday—the league-mandated cutoff for released or bought-out players being eligible for the playoffs—and he'll be in uniform for a contender next week. If I had to guess, he's a Spur, though watch out for the Heat and Clippers.
If there's anything this situation has taught us, though, it's that nothing—not even the divorce to the most mismatched of marriages—is as simple as it seems in the NBA.
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