Indiana has done a nice job of making sensible and affordable upgrades to its bench this summer, but the influence of those additions pales in comparison to the impact that a soon-returning Danny Granger should have on the Pacers' reserves. Whether Granger -- who played only five games last season because of a left-knee injury -- comes off the pine or not is almost immaterial on a macro level; he'll log minutes with both sets of players and function as a volume shot creator for a team that lacked for such a contributor last season.
But a more precise lineup arrangement has yet to be worked out, and with that comes intrigue. Paul George, Roy Hibbert, David West and George Hill will start games as a four-man core, but beyond them coach Frank Vogel will have the option of starting either guard Lance Stephenson, a bull-headed driver and defender who complements the other starters well, or Granger, who does more to score but with that skill could be more helpful in anchoring the second unit.
For his part, Stephenson says he's willing to take any role necessary for the good of the team. Here's what he said in an interview with Michael Pointer of the Indianapolis Star:
Q: Despite having an outstanding season, there’s been a lot of speculation you may go back to coming off the bench this season, especially if Danny Granger is healthy and ready. Would you be OK with that?
A: I’m just coming in to play hard. Whatever coach (Frank Vogel) decides to do, I think it’s a great decision. Me coming off the bench, Danny coming off the bench, either way, we’re deep. Whatever helps the team, that’s what I want to do.
If Stephenson is being honest (which would seem a safe bet, considering the outspoken source), this kind of open-mindedness allows Vogel to chase the pursuits that would ultimately be best for the Pacers on the whole. He can sift through specific player combinations and particular substitution options for the sake of best possible fit. Vogel understandably expresses public indecision on the subject (via Tom Lewis of Indy Cornrows):
When asked directly about how he expects the roles of Granger and Stephenson to play out, Vogel committed to nothing other than planning to have both players approach the situation with the most positive mindset possible and then see what happens from there.
"I don't have a preconceived notion of how it's going to play out," Vogel told Mark Montieth on Pacers.com.
"We'll see how it plays out. I want Lance Stephenson fighting to not give up the starting spot, but willing to play off the bench if he needs to. I want Danny coming back thinking he's going to come back as our best player. I want both of those guys approaching it that way and then we'll see how it plays out."
There's no use in Vogel's jumping to any decision. Granger played so little last season that there's almost no empirical basis from which to draw conclusions about his fit with this group. When Granger was last an integral piece, George was in no way the offensive asset he is now and Hibbert was in no way equipped to stay on the floor for major minutes. Both have changed, and with that comes an evolution of thought in how Granger can best help this team. It may take until the preseason for Vogel to determine his fifth starter, and even then he'll have the chance to experiment with different substitution patterns throughout the year. What's paramount here is that Vogel is seemingly trusted by the players themselves to do right by the team. Things could well change if the Pacers' season is an unexpected struggle, but at the moment few in Vogel's line of work would seem to have the same impressive level of coaching capital.