By Bob Kravitz
One by one, the names came off the NBA draft board. One by one, the Pacers' front office staff started wondering if the ridiculous was somehow possible. The Toronto Raptors had picked up a stiff, Charlie Villanueva, at No. 7. The Los Angeles Lakers, looking for a new Shaq, took a high school center named Andrew Bynum. The Charlotte Bobcats chose Sean May at No. 13, a bit higher than expected.
The NBA's teams were making a mockery of all the mock drafts.
Now, the Pacers were nearing their selection, No. 17, a place where they figured they might pick up a Francisco Garcia. But then they looked at the board. And they were stunned.
Danny Granger was still there.
The same Granger who blew away the Pacers during an early workout in Indianapolis, even if the brain trust was resigned to the fact he wasn't going to be around at 17.
"We've got a chance to draft this guy?" coach Rick Carlisle asked team president Larry Bird as they watched Granger work with three other players in early June at the fieldhouse.
"No, probably not," Bird responded.
Bird was so sure Granger wasn't going to be available at 17, he apologized to the New Mexico player for bringing him to Indianapolis for the workout.
Every mock draft had Granger going in the top 10, even in the top five. Carlisle said Tuesday if the Pacers had the fifth overall pick in the draft, they would have taken Granger. But lots of strange things started to happen, Villanueva and Bynum and May, and suddenly, the Pacers' eyes were getting big as saucers.
"We were holding our breath," Bird said, "thinking every pick that Granger was going to go next."
It never happened. And when it came time to make the pick, the decision was more unanimous than an election in a dictatorship.
"When Granger came down to us, we were amazed," Carlisle said.
Later, Bird was still looking like he'd won the lottery after picking up a single ticket on a sidewalk.
"I never dreamed he'd be there," he said.
Nobody could believe it. Chad Ford, ESPN's online draft analyst, wrote the Pacers got "the big steal of the draft."
So why did Granger fall?
There's only one possible issue: After his junior season, Granger had offseason shoulder surgery. And six months ago, he suffered a torn meniscus, but returned later in the season and played brilliantly.
Maybe that was it.
Otherwise, it didn't seem to add up. Bird said that as Granger became available, he started to think about the 1998 draft, when Paul Pierce, a surefire top-five pick, somehow fell to Boston at No. 10.
Granger, who Carlisle expects will compete for minutes immediately, gives the Pacers a lot of what they need.
He gives them depth and insurance at shooting guard. He gives them a capable fill-in at small forward for Ron Artest. He gives them a useful backup at power forward behind Jermaine O'Neal.
And he gives Bird the flexibility to make more moves. "We're not done yet," Bird said. "We've still got some things we want to do. We solidified two positions tonight, so that does a lot for us."
Granger doesn't just bring them talent, something the Pacers already have in abundance. Maybe as important, he also brings them some maturity, some sanity. And that's no small issue with a team that has the chance to be very, very good or very, very dysfunctional. Face it: You put Artest, Stephen Jackson and Jamaal Tinsley together, something is going to happen, and it's not always going to be good.
With Granger, we're talking here about a four-year college player, a Jehovah's Witness who has done missionary work, a young man who actually turned down Yale. When he moves to Indianapolis, he will be accompanied by his father, who has said he will shut down his forklift repair business and live with his son.
When Granger was chosen, ESPN analyst Greg Anthony immediately invoked the name of Scottie Pippen. Later, Carlisle was not backing away from the comparison. Granger may not be another Pippen, but he has many of the same physical skills, like Pippen, or maybe a bulkier Tayshaun Prince.
When somebody asked what position Granger would play, Carlisle answered like he was talking about the former Bulls' great:
"On the floor."
True, in 99 percent of all cases, when a team emerges from the draft room and says, "We couldn't believe Player X was still there," it's complete and utter nonsense, a transparent effort by the local management to convince its fans they pulled a fast one on the competition.
This was a 1 per center.
This wasn't supposed to happen. But it did. After a season of the worst luck imaginable, the Pacers got one of the franchise's best-ever breaks, choosing a young man who comes here from the same school that served the franchise well in the past, producing Mel Daniels.
If you thought this front-office was happy on Tuesday, just wait a few years.