The injuries have been too common of a trend his last two seasons, one ailment after another prohibiting Danny Granger from stepping his red-and-white Nikes on the hardwood.
In the past, the 6-8, 225-pound forward primarily plied his trade at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, home of the Indiana Pacers. But following an unsurprising trade of him and his expiring contract to the woeful Philadelphia 76ers, he’s since moved across the country to Staples Center to aid the contending Clippers as bench sparkplug, not primary scorer. No longer needed to be the leader, this is an unexpected albeit welcome turn in Danny Granger’s career.
“I’m not trying to go out and show I’m the same player that I was three years ago,” the 31-year-old states. “I’ve gotten to a point in my career where I just want to win. Whatever I have to do, whether I have to be vocal to do that, whether it’s to sit back and let somebody else lead and do that, that’s the point where I’m at.”
For a large ego, such a task may be an impossible one. Professional basketball intensely focuses on whether a player has star potential and ability. If he does, a heavy crown is bestowed upon him. For five seasons, Granger played that role for the Pacers, taking the most shots, big and small. The limelight, praise and scrutiny fell on him and his then five-year, $60 million contract, in success and failure. Now all that has diminished, falling in order behind Blake Griffin amidst his MVP-caliber season and Chris Paul’s stereotypically stellar self. For the first time since high school, the onus to prosper and lead is not on him.
“I think he’s sacrificing a lot more so he don’t have to be the man all the time and stuff,” Darren Collison, two-time teammate (they shared a couple years in Indiana), says of the veteran. “He’s starting to get adjusted to that right now. I mean, that’s a big role to adjust.
“Like I said,” he continues, “Danny is one of those guys where it’s very rare when you see players in his position sacrifice where he’s at right now.”
Never thinking he would make it as a pro baller, Danny Granger, ace student, debated where to attend college. A fruitful high school career in the classroom earned him admission to Yale University. As the school does not offer athletic scholarships, Granger selected tiny Bradley University so the lowly ranked recruit could play and pursue civil engineering—not something many collegiate athletes pursue. Soon he outgrew Peoria, IL, and transferred to browner pastures in Albuquerque and the University of New Mexico. His senior season featured a nearly 19-9 line, leading to Indiana’s selecting him 17th in the 2005 NBA Draft, one pick after washout Joey Graham and one before resurrected former high school flameout Gerald Green.
By 25, he was one of the NBA’s premier scorers, averaging 25.8 ppg in 2008-09, garnering his first and only All-Star game appearance. A slew of appearances for the East team seemed likely. But plantar fasciitis plagued him. Then he hurt his heel the next season. Those were only dings, still completing over 62 games. But he starred on sub-.500 teams, a possible “good stats; bad team” case.
“I didn’t ever think Danny would be a guy that could carry a team—a good team,” former coach Jim O’Brien says, the man who oversaw the peak of Granger’s prolific production. “For him to be a second or third scorer, I think he would definitely have to get used to that role, but I think he has the intelligence level and support around him to do what it takes under any circumstance.
“I’m sure his knee caused a major a setback,” O’Brien postulates. “But he had the mental toughness and could play both ends of the court at a very high level that I just thought that he would be a regular in the All-Star game or just out of it,” the latter thought a shared one with current Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, Granger’s first NBA coach.
Patellar tendinosis prohibited Granger during the 2012-13 season, trying to work back without going under the knife. But that wasn’t realized, playing just five games and enduring the first surgery in his NBA career, one that takes up to a year to truly recover from. He still hasn’t quite found his legs.
“When you take a year off, you kinda expect it,” he says. “It’s funny. You’ve been playing almost every year up to that point, so you haven’t conditioned your body to get ready for [the NBA rigor] again.”
In 2013 he watched the Pacers battle and fall to the Miami Heat in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals in a similar fashion to the last few weeks in L.A.: on the bench. But he beamed as Paul George, Lance Stephenson and Roy Hibbert’s “older brother,” players drafted during Granger’s stint as the Pacers’ franchise player, a title that quickly transferred to George.
“I was thrilled. I was really happy to see our young guys develop,” Granger reflects. “I was the old vet; I had been there for a bunch of years. I helped grow a lot of those players. So when we had that jump and got to the (Eastern Conference) Finals, I was so happy. We were so close to going to the (NBA) Finals.”
Granger hopes to achieve those dreams in a city where so many travel to reach their dreams. The Clippers are the No. 3 seed. It is the best team in franchise history, armed with Paul and Griffin trying to join the Western Conference oligarchy of Oklahoma City and San Antonio. If coach Doc Rivers has his way, now that Granger’s troubled hammy is right, the swingman will play a key part.
“I thought that he started out great,” Rivers says. “We’re finding ways to use him that I didn’t know we could. I thought that we could post him; we could. He hadn’t played in so long I honestly forgot that he shot the ball that well and that easy; so we start using him on pin-downs—I didn’t have any thought of doing that.
“Other than watching him on film before we decided to go after him, I literally had forgotten how good he played.”
One thing that shows Granger’s growth is his musical tastes. Yes, he’s on the new Rick Ross. He loves Hov. But neither produced his current go-to cut.
“The song I’ve listened to the most in the last six months is ‘Do You Wanna Build A Snowman?’ from the Frozen soundtrack,” he discloses with a big laugh. “I walk around humming that song in my head.
“I was in the locker room and Big Baby (Glen Davis) was playing the song in his locker (saying), ‘Man that’s all my daughter will listen to,’” he recounts, responding with, “‘Oh, who are you telling? I know all the words!’”
The thing Granger gushes most about isn’t playing for a title contender or as a cog on another great team; it’s his recent foray into fatherhood. And it’s not close.
“I’m a huge dad’s dad,” Granger joyously declares. He and his wife Dionna have 21-month-old fraternal twins, a son and a daughter, enjoying the added responsibilities of an increased domestic life, bringing them to practices, soaking up every possible minute.
The perspective was molded by his father, Danny Sr—whom O’Brien overwhelmingly praises and credit for raising the young Granger into a “fine young man” by being constructively hands-on and strict. Danny Sr was the sole parent after he and his wife Janice separated when the younger Granger was a teenager. After that, the senior Granger raised Danny and his sister and brother, Jamie and Scotty, by himself.
“I do have a demanding job as I travel a lot,” he says, “But when I am home—I’m only at the gym two-to-three hours a day—I spend the rest of my time with [my family].”
Fatherhood isn’t the only newly developed school of thought. He’s in his ninth professional season, witnessing the reality of the League often distorted by a glamorous veil.
“You get in [the League] at such a young age and you don’t know understand how the business works,” he muses. “You don’t know basketball: ‘Go play, go score the ball, rebound.’ That’s all you know.
“In college, you didn’t have too much power,” he adds. “The coaches and the school have all the power, and for the player, it changes. You can abuse it or you can use it in the correct way. I just wish I knew all that when I was younger.”
He’s certainly not young anymore—at least by an athlete’s standard—sitting on the wrong side of 30. The clock slowly ticks, moving toward an endpoint.
Adorned in a gray suit with black shirt, Granger would much rather rock adidas polyester than Armani wool. He claims he has no desire to show he’s the same player of his past. But his ability must still be reaffirmed. He knows this.
“Until I get to the point where I have the opportunity to go through training camp, start the season, play through the season, play out the season, be consistent throughout the season, I don’t know. I haven’t really had that opportunity [to determine my ability],” he says. “When you start new with a team, you have a role with that team, and they’ll show you whether you’ll be a scorer, shooter, whatever.
“When it’s more consistent, you can see what you’ll really do.”
No one’s seen a legit version of Danny Granger since 2012. But as far as he’s concerned, as long as he remains a dedicated father, plays—that buzz word—consistently and touches the Larry O’Brien Trophy’s golden, shiny surface, that’s all that matters. That’s his newfound ideality, one he appears at peace with, and not a bad one to settle on.
Will Robinson is a writer based in Los Angeles. Follow him @Will_Robinson_.