By Ben Golliver
After enjoying pristine health throughout the lockout-shortened season, the Pacers' 2012-13 season is off to a much different start.
The Pacers announced Wednesday that forward Danny Granger, their leading scorer for the past five seasons, could be out until February after receiving an injection in his left knee.
The Indiana Pacers announced that Danny Granger received an injection Tuesday to treat left patellar tendinosis. The procedure was performed by Dr. James Andrews in Gulf Breeze, Fla.
Team medical personnel are looking at a recovery time of approximately three months.
Should Granger miss exactly three months, he would be sidelined for 46 games, more than half of Indiana's season.
Granger, 29, had been ruled "out indefinitely" last week. He had appeared in just two preseason games and was shut down after feeling a "sharp pain" during an Oct. 26 exhibition against the Bulls. Granger's knee trouble dates to the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Heat.
This injury, given Granger's overall offensive game and solid defensive impact, has the potential to recast Indiana's season. The Pacers, who finished with the NBA's fifth-best record last season, entered 2012-13 with hopes winning their first Central Division title since 2004, aided by the long-term absence of Bulls point guard Derrick Rose. That wasn't an overly optimistic goal. Ownership ponied up to bring back key pieces (center Roy Hibbert and point guard George Hill), and management sought out nice additions to the rotation, including point guard D.J. Augustin, swingman Gerald Green and big man Ian Mahinmi. In an Eastern Conference that appeared to be a two-horse race between the Heat and Celtics, the Pacers had every opportunity to slide into the No. 3 slot. This injury lowers their ceiling.
The Pacers had remarkable luck with injuries last year. Eight of their top nine rotation guys -- Granger, Hibbert, David West, Paul George, Darren Collison, Tyler Hansbrough, Dahntay Jones and Lou Amundson -- played at least 60 of the 66 regular-season games. The only exception, Hill, still played 50. Playing without Granger, their No. 1 option, for so long, then, will be uncharted waters, and the injury could prove very difficult to overcome. Indeed, The Point Forward highlighted knee trouble for him as a "worst-case scenario" for the Pacers this year. The Pacers have filled Granger's starting spot with Green and Sam Young this season, but neither player is capable of replicating Granger's work.
Offensively, the Pacers succeeded last season in all-inclusive fashion: Five players averaged double figures and three others were close to hitting that mark. Together, that was good enough for eighth in the NBA in offensive efficiency, a significant improvement over previous seasons. Granger's burden had been reduced as the Pacers surrounded him with better players: Last year he averaged 18.7 points; as recently as 2008-09, he was at 25.8 points. Last year's mark still presents a gaping scoring hole, especially considering that the players most capable of stepping up to fill it --- West and George -- already play big minutes.
West, 32, a two-time All-Star, might be the biggest beneficiary here. He's in a contract year and is now a year removed from serious knee surgery. H's a proven, multi-dimensional scorer who took a bit of a backseat last season. Surely Pacers coach Frank Vogel will find ways to get more from him.
George, 22, Indiana's most tantalizing youngster, has averaged 40 minutes through the season's first week and Vogel has every reason to run him into the ground. A long, athletic wing, George will now have every opportunity to blossom this winter. At some point down the road, the Pacers could very well transition from being Granger's team to being George's; how well George plays in the coming months could certainly help set that transfer-of-power timeline.
Other guys to watch include Green, a high-flying leaper who has finally put things together over the last 12 months, and 22-year-old Lance Stephenson, who has been getting rotation minutes this year after weathering some off-court drama that threatened his status with the team in previous seasons. Both are eager to score whenever the opportunity presents itself. The upshot here is that this doesn't have to be a fatal blow. In a conference heavy with bottom-feeders, the Pacers should be able to scrape along and remain in the playoff picture even without Granger, and his current timeline will have him back with plenty of time for a late-season push and the postseason. In the meantime, the Pacers and their fans hang on for what could be a bumpier ride than anticipated.