The Extra Pass: Three things you think about Danny Granger that are wrong

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In his second game back Sunday, Danny Granger looked good.

After battling knee issues that kept him out almost all of last season and most of this one, Granger returned the Pacers lineup this weekend. Sunday against the Celtics he looked like the guy the Pacers are hoping he will be off the bench — 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting, running to the arc and fearless to take the shot.

There are questions about how Granger will work out over time, legitimate ones. But there seem to be a lot of misconceptions, too. Here are three things people just seem to get wrong.

1) “He can’t play with Paul George.” Granger entered Sunday’s game with 4:58 left in the first quarter (replacing Lance Stephenson) and the Pacers promptly went on an 8-0 run with Granger and George on the floor. So far through two games, they are a +1 together (the obligatory small sample size warning goes here).

But here’s where this old myth they can’t play together falls apart: It assumes that Granger is going to want the ball in his hands to run isolations and create for others. Yes, he used to be the focal point of the offense, but he’s not that guy anymore and he knows it — through two games he is working off the ball, finding his spot at the arc (he’s a career 38.3 percent from three) and fitting in well, thank you very much. He’ll be a volume shooter off the bench now and has accepted that role. He’s not going to take the ball out of George’s hands.

2) “He’s a $14 million expiring contract, the Pacers are going to trade him.” You’re thinking like it’s the old CBA. The value of expiring contracts are down (look at the trade deadline last year) and it’s hard to move a big deal like his. It’s not that the Pacers won’t listen to offers, but Larry Bird said he’s not looking to move him. Indiana wants to make a run at a title and Granger as a shooter off the bench helps them do that, it gives Frank Vogel a rock solid 9 man rotation he can lean on in the playoffs. Why not keep him around, make a title run then let the $14 million come straight off the books? That’s always been the most likely scenario.

3) “Granger can’t play defense like Indiana wants.” He’s actually always been a better defender, especially one-on-one, than he has gotten credit for. He’s solid in his help rotations. Granted, coming off a major knee injury he may not move the same way, but playing with the second unit (and with Roy Hibbert or Ian Mahinmi behind him) he doesn’t have to. Just be solid. Granger can do that.

The bottom line is this: Granger is back and the Pacers just got considerably better. Which is scary for the rest of the league.

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Pacers 106, Celtics 79: Indiana’s defense controlled this one, forcing Boston to take midrange jumper after midrange jumper, then contested them. The result was a Celtics team that shot just 38.1 percent for the night. Indiana took control with a 24-5 run in the second quarter and never looked back. It was a laugher. Paul George had 24 points, Lance Stephenson had a triple-double with 12 points 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

Raptors 104, Thunder 98: After a rusty first half — a hangover from the Spurs game — the Thunder seemed to figure it all out in the third and after a 14-0 run were up 11. We knew how this was going to end, right? Wrong. The Thunder went back to sloppy play, John Salmons had 9 points in the fourth (14 for the game) and the Raptors closed the game on a 6-0 run to win. Kyle Lowry had 22 points to lead the Raptors. Look at it this way, the Raptors shot 39.6 percent on the night, the Thunder 36.8 percent. It wasn’t pretty.

Clippers 120, Timberwolves 116 (OT): Minnesota keeps losing games like this. However, this one really had to sting. The Timberwolves big men dominated the Clippers front line — Kevin Love had 45 points and 19 rebounds, Nikola Pekovic added 34. Yet Minnesota couldn’t shake the Clippers, who got 32 points and 10 rebounds from Blake Griffin. Still, Minnesota was up two and had the ball with 8 seconds. All they had to do was inbound and hit free throws. They inbounded into the backcourt to their best free throw shooter, Kevin Martin, who slipped a little then got stripped by Chris Paul, who fed Jamal Crawford for a layup and we were headed to OT. In the extra period Chris Paul had 9 points, dominated and you see the final score. Minnesota should feel sick about this one.

Eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard: “I have a lot left in the tank”

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — At 31 and entering his 14th NBA season, eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard says his best basketball is ahead of him.

Wearing a teal suit with black trim, a smiling Howard insisted Monday he can return to being a dominant center with the Charlotte Hornets, where he will be reunited with coach Steve Clifford and play for one of his childhood heroes, team owner Michael Jordan.

“A lot of people have written me off, which is great because it’s going to make me work even harder,” Howard said during his introductory news conference. “I’m just looking forward to this opportunity because I have a lot left in the tank.”

This will be Howard’s third team in three seasons.

The Atlanta Hawks, his hometown team, traded him to Charlotte one year into a three-year, $74 million contract. Howard said he has no hard feelings, adding that “sometimes things just don’t work out.”

But he’s confident Charlotte is the right fit.

“I think I’m a lot healthier than I have been in the past five years and I think this is going to be my best time,” Howard said. “I’m a lot wiser now, stronger mentally and physically, and I’m in the right place with a great coach, a great GM and the GOAT (greatest of all time). So I think this is the perfect opportunity.”

Much of Howard’s optimism stems from being reunited with Clifford.

They worked together for seven seasons in Orlando and Los Angeles, and the 6-foot-11 three-time Defensive Player of the Year loves Clifford’s defense-first mentality. He’s also confident Clifford will put him in the right situations to succeed on offense.

“He understands me,” Howard said. “… He was always there for me and not once did he turn his back on me or talk bad about me. He was very positive and he was somebody that I have always trusted in.”

The feeling is mutual.

Clifford said he’s never coached a player smarter than Howard when it comes to understanding defensive coverages. While Howard has incredible athletic ability, Clifford said, he’s never been given the credit he deserves for playing a “thinking man’s game.”

“Smart always wins in the NBA,” Clifford said.

Howard is expected to start in Charlotte alongside All-Star point guard Kemba Walker, guard Nic Batum and forwards Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams. Cody Zeller, last year’s starting center, is expected to come off the bench for the Hornets but still see significant minutes.

Howard said he’s learned a lot over the past 13 seasons.

“Over the years a lot of things have been said and I’ve not said anything back,” Howard said. “Somehow things that weren’t true kept getting stirred up, and that gave a lot of people wrong opinions about who I was as a person. I should be the one speaking up for myself instead of allowing other people to do that.”

In Charlotte, Howard becomes the second big-name athlete to be known as “Superman,” joining former NFL MVP quarterback Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers.

Both are from the Atlanta area and have met a couple of times but aren’t close friends. Howard said he’s eager to connect with Newton and get to know him better.

“We have the same attitude; we love to win, but we want to have fun,” Howard said.

 

As expected, Timberwolves waive Jordan Hill

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Last summer, the Minnesota Timberwolves took a $4 million flier on veteran big man Jordan Hill, hoping he could give them some backup minutes behind Karl-Anthony Towns. Didn’t work out that way, he appeared in just 47 minutes across seven games. Cole Aldrich was better (though not great), and so in the draft the Timberwolves took Justin Patton hoping he can give them some minutes next season.

Which means Hill’s time in Minnesota has come to an end.

Hill will be 30 years old next season, but I’m not sure that there’s another NBA contract in his future. If so he may have to earn it through a training camp invite.

Report: Nets, Sixers to try and land J.J. Redick as free agent

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Chris Paul and Blake Griffin get all the headlines as the big Clippers’ big free agents, but there is another Clipper going to get paid this summer:

J.J. Redick.

One of the best snipers in the NBA, he shot 42.9 percent from three last year. However, he’s become much more than just a shooter. No player works harder off the ball to get open than Redick, he’s got enough game to put the ball on the floor and create if he gets closed out on, and he’s a solid team defender. He has remade his body and his game since his days at Duke, and now he’s going to get paid.

Maybe by Brooklyn or Philadephia, reports Kevin O’Conner at The Ringer.

Multiple league sources I’ve spoken to expect the Sixers and Nets to make a hard push at Redick. Were he to go to either of those teams, Redick could receive an opportunity unlike anything he’s had before. He is one of the greatest 3-point shooters in league history, and is coming off a season in which he averaged a career-high six 3-point attempts per game. That’s a lot of triples, but it’s not enough. Even Sixers swingman Robert Covington averaged more last season, at 6.1 per game, and he shot only 33.3 percent. A gunslinger of Redick’s caliber should be averaging about 8.5 treys, in the same range as Klay Thompson or Eric Gordon. Had Redick taken 8.5 3s last season and posted the same 42.9 percent clip, he would’ve averaged 18.2 points per game. Redick could receive those chances with the Sixers or Nets, all while living within close proximity to his home in Brooklyn.

Redick will have options, the question is what does he want? Does he want to be close to home in Brooklyn? Does he want to both help on the court and mentor off it the up-and-coming Sixers? Would he take a little less money, and a couple fewer shots, to chase a ring? Does he want to stay a Clipper?

Redick has earned the right to have options, his skill set could help any team. He may be flying under fans’ radar, but not front office executives. They see Redick’s value. Which is why he will have options come July 1.

Report: Nuggets plan to make free agent run at Blake Griffin, Paul Millsap

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Denver likes its young core. As it should. Nikola Jokic looks like a franchise cornerstone piece at center. Young guards Gary Harris and Jamal Murray are clearly part of the future. Emmanuel Mudiay and Juan Hernangomez may be as well.

What Denver needs most is an upgrade at the four — someone who can defend, rebound, and space the floor. It’s a top off-season priority (and why they came up as a third team in the Kevin Love/Paul George trade talks, but that appears dead now).

Instead, expect the Nuggets to be aggressive on the free agent market. Via Marc Stein and Chris Haynes at ESPN.

Denver, according to sources, hopes to crash the list of suitors for Los Angeles Clippers unrestricted free agent Blake Griffin and Atlanta Hawks unrestricted free agent Paul Millsap.‎

Denver’s interest in Millsap is no secret and they will likely come in with a big offer, and it’s known he’s likely to leave Atlanta this summer. He’d be the perfect fit with his ability to defend other fours (he almost made the NBA All-Defensive Team), he is strong on the glass, and he shot 31.3 percent from three last season (you have to respect him out there). Griffin is more athletic and a better passer than Millsap, but he’s not the same level of defender, and he comes with more injury concerns. He also could stay with the Clippers.

Denver has positioned itself to be a player, a team going after one more big star to position itself not just in the playoffs in the West but as a team fast on the rise. Whether the Nuggets can out-recruit teams for elite players, remains to be seen. Millsap, Griffin and players of that level have options and a lot of teams chasing them.

However, Denver is one confident organization right now.