As Danny Granger vacations in Italy, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James
are marching toward a possible dream matchup in the NBA Finals.Granger proved he could go basket-to-basket with those two this season.
Now the Indiana Pacers' All-Star forward needs to prove he can defend at the same level, or his vacation next year might start just as early as this one.
Granger finished fifth in the league in scoring (25.8 ppg). His defense fell off as quickly as his offensive game took off, and the Pacers missed the playoffs for a third consecutive season.
"Danny will get better," Pacers president Larry Bird said. "He'll do what it takes to get better. Danny plays with a chip on his shoulder. The one thing Danny has to do is take leadership on the defensive end. I think once he does that, guys will follow and we'll get better."
James and Dwyane Wade were the NBA's top two scorers. They were also second and third, respectively, in Defensive Player of the Year voting because they embraced guarding the other team's best player. Granger didn't make the top 20 in voting.
It's no surprise he'll put an emphasis on becoming a lockdown defender this summer.
"LeBron didn't always play defense and D-Wade didn't always play defense," Granger said. "Now they've realized to be good in this league or to have an elite team you have to play defense. Next year I'll have more of a commitment to it because you kind of get zoned out.
"People are always talking about how many points I score and this, that or another. I get zoned out, even in games."
Wade was the league's role model for doing a lot with little around him.
The Miami Heat All-Star guard led the league in scoring and got his team to Game 7 of the first round of the playoffs while not having an abundance of talent surrounding him.
The Pacers need the same from Granger.
Pacers coach Jim O'Brien used James and Boston's Kevin Garnett as examples for Granger to follow. The Cavaliers and Celtics are two of the best defensive teams in the league.
"You look at any organization that has succeeded, it always comes down to defense," O'Brien said. "Kevin Garnett leading Boston . . . You can hear LeBron (during games) take pride in the way he challenges his team to constantly get the next stop. You can see it in his ability to guard the other team's best player.
"It's a natural progression of the All-Star wanting to see his franchise go to the next level."
It's not that Granger isn't a good defender. He spent the first few years of his career defending the opposing team's best player after learning from former teammate Ron Artest during part of his rookie season.
The Pacers needed Granger to score last season. O'Brien didn't put him on the opponent's best perimeter player until late in the season.
The Pacers can't afford to continue that approach because they won't be a playoff team until they learn how stop an opponent.
No more excuses. Look at James and Wade.
"As the leaders of your team, they have to own the defense," O'Brien said. "It can't be the coaches owning the defense because we don't play the game. It's got to be very, very important for the whole team to understand that the players that are our leaders are as serious about wanting a great defensive team as the coaching staff."