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Mark's Mailbag: Recent Roster Moves, Andrew Bynum’s Status, and Danny Granger’s Future

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

February 27, 2014

Editor's Note: Have a Pacers-related question for Mark? Want to be featured in his mailbag column? Send your questions to Mark on twitter at @MarkMontieth or by email at askmontieth@gmail.com.

Q. Re: Orlando Johnson: Does your gut tell you he might be back next season once the roster clears a bit? - John

A. I think it's possible. Larry Bird said as much when he met with the media for the first time to discuss the trade with Philadelphia, which forced the release of Johnson.

It's impossible to know the Pacers' roster situation heading into training camp next season, but if there's a spot at shooting guard, Johnson would be a possibility. He was one of the most popular guys in the locker room because of his effort in practice and humble, unselfish attitude. The story of the tragedies he overcame during his childhood is so dramatic that you can't help but admire him just for surviving. He actually struck me as being a leader during his rookie season, because of his hard-won maturity.

Johnson has signed a 10-day contract with Sacramento, a good place for him because they have opportunity and because he grew up in northern California. If he's a free agent next fall, he'll surely be in somebody's camp. He should go with the team that gives him the best chance to make the roster.

Q. I've always wondered, do players help other players with their game or is that not common? - Glenn

A. This question came in response to a tweet I posted, stating that David West should work with Roy Hibbert on post moves.

I don't ever recall seeing players work with teammates on skill development following a practice. That doesn't mean it never happens at other times. The media isn't allowed to watch practice until the final 10 minutes or so, so I have no idea what goes on in those dark moments. (Kidding.)

I have the feeling a lot of players would be hesitant to work with teammates. Maybe it's a pride thing. They probably would be more comfortable with retired players, or professional instructors. Teammates are viewed as peers.

Q. Does anybody know when Andrew Bynum is expected to play? - Matt

A. If they do, they aren't saying. Bynum is practicing with the team, and has begun to participate in some of the “live” or contact portions of it. Coach Frank Vogel takes a conservative view, saying it might be a few more weeks before Bynum plays in a game, while Bynum talks as if it won't be that long.

The training staff will do its best to get him healthy and in shape before then. He still would have at least a month of regular season games to get into a rhythm.

It's interesting, though, that Ian Mahinmi is playing so well recently. Suddenly, the need for a backup center seems less pressing. But if the Pacers have three capable centers heading into the playoffs, they'll be residing in the lap of luxury. It would be kind of like owning three models of a Bentley. The longest three.

Q. What's the chances of landing (Danny Granger) for the minimum in the off season? - JwiL

A. Ever hear that old joke about “slim and none, and Slim just left town?” It's a bad cliché if you've heard it before, but modestly amusing if you haven't.

Anyway, the odds of Granger signing with the Pacers for the minimum this summer are something like that. If he plays well down the stretch, he'll command more than a minimum salary. If he doesn't, he'll have a difficult time finding a team. And it wouldn't seem to make much sense for him to return to the Pacers.

Ever hear that quote from the author Thomas Wolfe? “You can't go home again.” It would be something like that. Time moves on, and it's almost impossible to catch up and regain your place after you've fallen off the merry-go-round.

Q. The Miami Heat opened up a roster spot. Will the newly bought-out Granger find his way there in an unsuspected plot twist? - Kyle

A. As of the moment I'm writing this, Granger is said to be most likely to sign with the Clippers or Spurs.

It would be quite the plot twist if he signed with the Heat, though, wouldn't it? You can just hear Pat Riley saying, “And, Danny, don't forget to bring your playbook.” Not that NBA teams have playbooks, but you get the point. They could mine Granger for as much information as he could give them about the Pacers and how to play against them. And, Granger could tell the Heat players what to whisper to each of the Pacers to distract them. “Hey, Paul, I know your address. Someone's egging your house as we speak.”

I know Pacers fans don't want to see Granger in a Heat uniform, but it would be great theater.

Q. My concern going forward is defense from the guard position. Do you feel that is legitimate? - Joe

A. Not really. I think George Hill and Lance Stephenson are at least adequate. Neither are exceptionally quick, but they have length. Stephenson adds strength to the mix, and Hill has smarts and the desire to do it. If you feel like going back and looking at previous box scores, you'll see that he has held most of the premier point guards below their scoring average.

Also keep in mind that the Pacers' defensive system calls for the perimeter defenders to funnel their man to the foul lane, where help defense and Roy Hibbert are supposed to be waiting. They don't gamble for steals, but they also play their man tightly, which sometimes causes them to get beat off the dribble.

You would be wise to be more concerned about turnovers and whether or not they can establish chemistry with the recent additions.

Q. Here are a couple of questions from “The Golden Years” of Pacers basketball. First, can you explain the trade of Mark Jackson and the team reacquiring him? Seems like this happened in '96? I remember that the team struggled mightily without him. It is odd that a team, with the same upper leadership, trades a player only to trade back for him. (GRATEFUL THEY DID! Didn't they get Jalen Rose for him in the initial trade?)

Also, would you agree the the worst trade (hindsight IS 20-20...) in Pacers history was the trade of Antonio Davis for Jonathan Bender? - Chris

A. The combination of trading Jackson and then re-acquiring him in 1996 and '97 was one of Donnie Walsh's best moves in his 25-years as the Pacers general manager and team president.

He traded Jackson, Ricky Pierce and a second-round draft pick to Denver for Rose, Reggie Williams and a second-round draft pick on June 13, 1996. The thought at the time was that Travis Best was ready to become the starting point guard, unless Rose was. Rose, though, had been regarded as a “bust” in Denver.

The following season was Larry Brown's last as coach, and an unhappy one for all concerned. With Rik Smits and Derrick McKey missing 30 and 32 games respectively, the Pacers finished 39-43. Brown was ready to move on from the start of that season, and was in a foul mood through most of it. But toward the end, Walsh was able to trade Eddie Johnson, Vincent Askew and two second-round picks for Jackson and LaSalle Thompson. (A separate deal on the same day sent Jerome Allen to Denver for Darvin Ham.)

So, Walsh in effect obtained Jalen Rose for the low, low cost of loaning out Mark Jackson for barely more than half of a season. Rose, of course, became the scoring leader on the 1999-2000 Finals team and again the following season. He was quickly usurped by Jermaine O'Neal, however, and threatened by the looming presence of Al Harrington and Jonathan Bender. That led to him (and Travis Best and Norm Richardson) being traded to Chicago for Ron Artest, Brad Miller, Kevin Ollie and Ron Mercer. That was another wildly successful trade – for a few years, at least.

I don't consider the trade of Davis for Bender the worst in franchise history, because you can't expect a general manager/president to be able to predict injuries. Bender had the potential to become a superstar, and showed plenty of flashes of it. Davis was a backup forward for the Pacers, and wanted out so that he could become a starter. Davis had the better career after the trade, but only because of Bender's persistent knee problems.

A lot of people make the mistake of thinking the Pacers might have won the championship in 2000 if they had kept Davis. What they miss is that the Pacers had three unhappy power forwards the previous season. Dale Davis was the starter, but wanted to play more minutes. Antonio was unhappy not to be starting. And, Austin Croshere was unhappy not to be playing more.

To keep that group together another season would have caused a lot of inner turmoil. As it turned out Croshere blossomed in Antonio's absence and filled the backup role nicely. And, you might remember how well Croshere played in the Finals against the Lakers. It's unlikely Antonio would have played any better.

The worst trade? That came on June 5, 1981, when a future first-round draft pick was traded for journeyman center Tom Owens. That pick, of course, turned out to be the second pick in the 1984 draft and could have been used on Michael Jordan.

The story behind that gut-wrenching transaction is that the Pacers were without a general manager at the time of the deal, and coach Jack McKinney was allowed to do it. McKinney wanted out because the Pacers' ownership was so woefully inadequate in that pre-Simon era. He had just taken the Pacers to the playoffs for the first time the previous season, and thought if he could make another playoff run he'd be able to get a coaching job with a more stable franchise. James Edwards had signed a free agent deal with Cleveland, so McKinney needed a center to fill the gap. Owens was obtainable, and, what the heck, McKinney didn't plan on being with the team when the '84 draft rolled around, anyway.

Turns out he wasn't. He was let go after the 1983-84 season, when the Pacers finished 26-56. The second-worst trade probably was trading a young Alex English and a first-round draft pick for a past-his-prime George McGinnis on Feb. 2, 1980. English, who was 26 at the time, went on to score more than 25,000 points and earn selection to the Hall of Fame. McGinnis, 29, averaged about 13 points the rest of that season and the next, but was released in training camp in 1982.

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