February is the most dismal month of the year when it comes to college and professional sports. We’re weeks away from Opening Day, March Madness, NFL free agency, The Masters and the NBA playoffs.
So while we toil in sports’ most anonymous month, let us float three hypotheticals — two regarding the Pacers, one concerning Indiana/Big Ten basketball — to usher in a spring sure to be rife with Augusta roars, buzzer beaters and walk-off home runs.
Will Danny Granger cede the spotlight to Paul George?
Salaries notwithstanding, if you, the reader, were a potential NBA owner and could pick one current player to start a franchise with, who would be it be?
The first two answers are easy: LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
After those two, the choices are less obvious.
Chris Paul is the league’s best point guard, but he’s also battled multiple knee injuries.
Carmelo Anthony? Lots of offense, but varied interest in defense.
Dwight Howard? Nope, someone else can handle Superman’s song and dance.
Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Dwyane Wade are goodies, but oldies (30 and over).
Practically, there’s a group of soon-to-be perennial All-Stars that merit discussion after James and Durant: LaMarcus Aldridge, Anthony Davis, Paul George, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook.
And with the No. 3 pick in the Start Your Franchise From Scratch Draft…sportswriter Freking selects Paul George.
(I’d take George over Irving and Rose mainly because of past and future injury concerns).
Which brings me to my next point, the Pacers and their Danny Granger Predicament.
With Granger’s imminent return from injury — perhaps as soon as Friday vs. the Pistons — will there be a divide on the team/coaching staff/front office as to whether George or Granger is the team’s First Banana?
George has been a revelation. He leads the team in scoring and steals. He’s second in rebounds and assists. He’s both a versatile and a heady defender. He’s begun to relish the big moments. He put up 17 points in the All-Star Game and cracked the East’s crunch-time rotation along with James, Anthony, Wade and Joakim Noah.
The 22-year-old George is Indiana’s franchise player, and if the California native — who is under contract through next season — wants to stay long-term, he’ll get a monster extension sooner rather than later.
Here lies the (potential) problem for this season: Granger has held the First Banana title since 2007.
Now, the 29-year-old Granger has exhibited no signs of egotism in the past, though given the team’s lack of success before 2011-12, there was hardly room for big-headedness.
Indiana has avoided internal strife since coach Frank Vogel took over on Jan. 30, 2011.
I don’t expect that to change, especially since the starting five of George Hill, David West, Roy Hibbert, George and Granger was rated the second-best five-man unit of the 2012 playoffs by BasketballValue.com.
The Pacers receive a heavy dose of home cooking over the next month, with eight of their first 12 post-All Star Break tilts at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Keep an eye on how Granger is reintegrated and if George’s newfound confidence in his game is affected.
Is J.J. Redick worth it?
No, the Pacers won’t be trading Tyler Hansbrough for Atlanta’s Josh Smith. Yes, New Orleans would hang up the phone if offered a swap of Eric Gordon for Granger. (Even though the salaries match).
ESPN.com’s Trade Machine is a wonderful thing, and I’m sure many Pacers fans are procrastinating away in study halls and cubicles across the Hoosier State trying to figure out how their squad can pry J.J. Redick away from the Magic for next to nothing.
But here’s the unsurprising — yet unyielding — truth about NBA trades: You have to give up something in order to get something.
Even in the universally-disclaimed trade that shipped Pau Gasol to the Lakers in 2008, Los Angeles still had to give up draft rights to Pau’s brother, Marc — now one of the NBA’s three-best centers.
The Association’s rumor mill is churning at warp speed ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline, and Indiana’s sights are reportedly centered on Redick.
The former Duke star is averaging a career-best 15.3 ppg this season. Redick also converts 40 percent of his 3-point attempts and nearly 89 percent of his free throws (fifth-best in NBA). And unlike his Durham days, Redick has evolved into a solid off-the-dribble playmaker.
Coincidentally, Redick’s improvement has come in a contract year, as the seventh-year guard will become a free agent on July 1.
There are two questions to ponder when considering this potential trade: Would acquiring Redick make Indiana better-equipped to beat Miami? And how much are the Pacers willing to give up for a player who will almost certainly not be on their roster next fall?
Indiana’s problem is it doesn’t have many trade assets. Gerald Green’s value is at rock bottom, and it’s safe to say teams aren’t blowing up the phones of Pacer executives Donnie Walsh and Kevin Pritchard seeking Orlando Johnson and Jeff Pendergraph.
But, a package of Lance Stephenson, Tyler Hansbrough and the Pacers’ first-round pick in the June Draft would be more than enough.
The Magic would only do this deal because (in order) of the first-round pick, Stephenson and Hansbrough’s expiring contract.
Lottery-bound Orlando could use the first-round pick to move up on the draft, acquire further future picks, etc. A coveted first-round pick is the equivalent of the ace of diamonds when it comes to potential trade leverage.
Stephenson has a team option of $981,349 for 2012-13, so Magic could pick that up or even offer Stephenson a new contract.
Orlando has a glut of power forwards, so they’d let Hansbrough walk at the end of the season.
Without a doubt, it would be a tough trade for Indiana to do.
Acquiring Redick would certainly upgrade the team’s bench scoring — something that really hurt the Pacers vs. Miami in the Eastern Conference Semifinals last spring — but the move would downgrade the team’s ability to defend the Heat, as Stephenson has demonstrated the ability to be somewhat of a Wade Stopper.
These are the type of decisions that can turn teams into legitimate championship contenders, or sink their title hopes.
The case for three Big Ten teams in the Final Four
The NCAA hosted a two-day mock Selection Sunday for selected members of the media last week, and the resulting bracket listed current Associated Press No. 1 Indiana as the top seed in the Midwest Regional — hosted by Lucas Oil Stadium — and as the tourney’s No. 1 overall seed.
Michigan was No. 1 in the West and Michigan State was the East’s No. 2 seed.
(The media committee was told Michigan hypothetically beat Michigan State in the B10 tourney semis and IU in the finals).
Second-tier Big Ten teams Wisconsin and Ohio State were No. 4 in the East and No. 6 in the Midwest regions, respectively.
Let’s go ahead and assume three things…
>> Indiana captures the regular season conference crown and advances to at least the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, meaning it is the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.
>> Michigan and Michigan State finish in the top three of the regular season league standings and perform well enough in the postseason conference competition to remain on the No.1/No. 2 seed line.
>> Duke and Miami of Florida split the ACC regular season and conference tournament titles, keeping the Hurricanes from being the top overall seed and limiting the ACC to a single No. 1 seed.
Barring major collapses, the Indiana/Michigan/Michigan State triumvirate will be awarded two No. 1 seeds and a No. 2, or one No. 1 seed and a pair of No. 2s.
The Big Ten has delivered classic after classic this season. What better way to cap the year with three B10 teams in the Final Four, a feat accomplished only once before when the Big East sported eventual national champion Villanova, runner-up Georgetown and St. John’s at the 1985 Final Four.
Grant Freking is a sportswriter for the Daily Reporter. Contact him at (317) 477-3230 or at firstname.lastname@example.org