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Pacers target Dec. 20 return for Danny Granger

Dec 15, 2013, 6:00 PM EDT

Danny Granger AP

The Pacers have the best record in the league at 20-3, and they’ve gotten there with two All-Stars in the starting lineup and a much-improved bench unit over the one they had last season.

The available talent is about to get even deeper, as Danny Granger is set to return to the team’s lineup by the end of the coming week.

From Scott Agness of Pacers.com:

“I was waiting for the Danny Granger

,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said more than four minutes into a post-practice interview. “I finally have news on Danny Granger.

“We’re going to target next Friday for a hopeful return to see how this week of practice goes.”

Until now, the Pacers stayed away from publicly announcing a timeline after the initial diagnosis. Now, both Vogel and Granger appear giddy about the possibility of him playing Friday when the Houston Rockets are in town. Coincidentally, the game will be nationally televised by ESPN.

Granger was believed to be physically ready to play sooner, but with the team doing so well, there was no need to rush him back. The hope is that with the extra reps practicing while fully healthy, the amount of time needed to get acclimated to the rhythm and speed of the NBA game will be minimized.

The Pacers will be very interested to see how Granger fits into this team, considering that they achieved last season’s success without him for all but five regular season games. If Granger is able to contribute anywhere near the level he played at before the injuries, he could help bolster an offense that ranks just 13th in efficiency to this point in the season.

There’s also the trade angle to consider. Granger is on the books for $14 million this season, but it’s an expiring contract that will leave him as an unrestricted free agent this summer. Teams that are looking to create cap space may be interested in taking on Granger’s deal, and if he’s just OK in his return, the Pacers may consider trading him before the deadline to gain some additional assets.

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