Danny Granger expects to lead Pacers to playoffs

Danny Granger has compiled an impressive resume over the past

few years.

The Indiana Pacers forward won a gold medal with Team USA at the

world championships earlier this month. He averaged 24 points a

game last season. He was an All-Star and the NBA’s most improved

player the year before that.

One thing missing for the sixth-year player is a postseason

series win. Granger hasn’t even been to the playoffs since his

rookie season in 2005-06.

”I need to win,” Granger said Monday at the team’s media day.

”That’s my basic thing. Whenever I’m scoring, I really don’t care.

We need to get this team winning.”

Granger is confident that will happen after the Pacers acquired

point guard Darren Collison from New Orleans in a trade last month.

Collison averaged 18.8 points and 9.1 assists in 37 starts as a

rookie last season while All-Star Chris Paul was sidelined by an

injury.

”I was very happy, very excited,” Granger said. ”I knew he

was a very good point guard. I watched him down in New

Orleans.”

Though the Pacers had to part with veteran power forward Troy

Murphy in the deal, Collison solidifies a position that has been a

question mark for Indiana in recent seasons.

”The past four years, we’ve probably had a different point

guard every year, so we haven’t had consistency at that spot,”

Granger said. ”That’s probably the most important spot on the

court. Hopefully, Darren will bring us that.”

Granger said he also wants to regain his All-Star status and

feels he will if he remains healthy. He missed 20 games last

season, mostly because of an injured right heel, and said he

focused on strength training and flexibility this offseason to

protect himself from injury.

Granger has been a top-10 scorer the past two seasons, but he

hasn’t improved as a defender as much as team president Larry Bird

would like. Granger said his defense improved this summer from the

experience at the world championships in Turkey.

”I grew a lot,” he said. ”Over there is a different game.

Defense over there is a lot more physical. Everything we did over

there probably would have been a foul in the NBA. But it gives you

the mindset of how you should play defense.”

Just as important, he spent the summer watching and learning

from Denver Nuggets veteran Chauncey Billups.

”Playing with guys like Chauncey Billups, who’s done so much in

the NBA – you’re just watching him and some of the things he does

and the way he handles himself, the way he talks to other

players,” he said. ”Everybody really had to take something from

that.”

Pacers coach Jim O’Brien already has noticed growth in Granger’s

leadership skills.

”I think that is a very important element, not only for Danny,

but the rest of our veterans to understand,” he said. ”Player

leadership is always important. I think Danny’s summer was one of

education for him.”

Granger has served as a mentor to first-round draft pick Paul

George. The forward from Fresno State had worked out with Granger

before the draft.

”I love Paul as a person, as a player,” Granger said. ”Even

before we drafted him, I loved his game. He has a lot of talent and

a lot of upside. You have to get the way right from the beginning.

Show him the work ethic and what it takes to become successful in

the NBA so he can reach the full extent of his potential.”

Part of Granger’s role has included lecturing players who get in

trouble. Brandon Rush was suspended without pay for five games for

violating the terms of the NBA/NBPA Anti-Drug Program. Lance

Stephenson was arrested last month in New York on assault, menacing

and harassment charges. Prosecutors said the Pacers’ second-round

draft pick pushed his girlfriend down a flight of stairs, then

grabbed her and hit her head on the bottom step.

Both heard from Granger.

”He called me from overseas and gave me an earful,” Rush said.

”He told me to move on from it and come back ready when the

suspension is up.”

Granger has become more vocal because he knows he needs those

players to accomplish that elusive goal of having postseason

success. He believes this is the year things will change.

”I honestly think the moves we made this summer and the players

we already have – we have a lot of pieces.”