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Rockets Daily: Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

More whimper than bang, more sigh than scream, Tracy McGrady’s homecoming went about as awkwardly and weirdly aggressively as any first meeting with a jilted love. There were the requisite posturing and handful of knowing glances, but in the end, no one could avoid the obvious bleakness of the situation and left feeling worse. In these situations, we are left to make prescriptions for our own behavior out of myriad emotions that may conflict with each other, as memories of both heartaches and good times appear simultaneously, but in the realm of sports, a crowd’s response cannot properly convey the nuance of ambivalence. Instead, Houston opted to boo. Heartily, at that. And while McGrady, especially inside of his goateed, veteran exterior, probably did not revel in the welcome, he sneered and rocketed jumpers like it was 2005 (by the way, what happened to the changed number? I guess he had done enough promo for his Darfur film, but it, along with his hilarious shot selection, only adds to the nostalgia).

What three years ago would be considered a particularly non-productive showing by McGrady stood out last night as a statement. For only the third time this year, McGrady hit double figures in scoring (a nifty 11 on 6 shots) without completely obstructing the Pistons’ second unit’s offense; he instead played the very reminiscent role of playmaker, putting in some great work that ended in three assists and would have amounted to more had his finishers known what they were doing (sound familiar?). Watching his older, chubbier body look for the angles and seek the open man was not supposed to be depressing; at worst, this game should have evoked chuckles about how silly we all were for thinking it would work, Tracy included. Because of the shower of catcalls rolling down his back every time he touched the ball, though, this all became some miserable Twilight Zone parody version of LeBron in Cleveland, the prodigal son returning to the drunken, angry father; he opted to go the Bron Bron route and force some jumpers that looked a lot like old Tracy McGrady shots (in location and result, though his actual jumper didn’t rise off of the floor in the same cartoonish way it used to, so it was actually as contested as it should have been all of those years his athleticism allowed him that peek at omnipotence), a strategy that sometimes snuffed out the boo birds but ultimately reminded all of us why this is so hard. He’s not the only tragedy of his sort (Grant Hill made a reclamation project out of his predicament, and Brandon Roy better figure out how he’ll handle his fall back toward mortality), but he could have been the one. Everything felt right when he came, dreams of rings in our heads cemented by the towering presences of those two freaks of nature, and as he leaves, on a plane to New Orleans to battle even more young men whose awareness of him dwindles, everything feels so wrong. How did that, the Rockets’ perfect shot at relevance with two men whose pairing seemed downright serendipitous, turn into this?

A poor game was also played last night, one that ended in a Rockets victory thanks to the very steady performance of Kyle Lowry and the breakout firestorm that was Luis Scola Tuesday night. For them, even former teammates of Tracy, last night represented a flawed win, the kind of rough one that you’re happy to have but know must be fixed. And I’m sure the Pistons don’t just feel like last night’s loss was an acceptable outcome (except maybe Rip Hamilton, who seemed to be thrown out in the second quarter because he wanted to do anything but play in this particular basketball game), but for them, road losses have become routine. This game’s significance, if there was any, will not be found in their reactions. No matter what he tells Detroit newspapers, Tracy McGrady cared about coming home. He cared enough to try and remind Houston of what he was, even if we all were left wondering why he isn’t (and we aren’t) what could have been.

Houston Rockets 97, Detroit Pistons 83

Box Score

Piston Powered (Make sure to take a look at Dan Feldman’s less emotional, but similarly T-Mac-centric take on Tuesday’s match)

On to the links…

  • In a talk with the Houston Chronicle‘s Jose De Jesus Ortiz, Tracy McGrady got to talk about his homecoming himself, and he really doesn’t seem so glum about the whole thing or his career as metaphor for human suffering or any of it; however, he does talk at length about a favorite topic around these parts (especially as the Rockets struggle to reclaim relevance): what could have been. Like Gladys Knight, McGrady thinks about the good ol’ days and his chance at redemption that has since slipped away (OK, maybe he did sound a bit glum): “There were only memories of unfulfilled dreams and unfulfilled expectations that Houston fans once had envisioned for him and Yao Ming. ‘Good, bad, what could have been, what should have been,’ he said. ‘I have those thoughts all the time. … It’s frustrating because I look back on the year that I got hurt, the year we added Ron (Artest). I felt like that was a championship team. If you look at what they accomplished in the playoffs that year taking the Lakers to seven games without Yao and myself, I felt like that was the year. And who knows what would have happened after that if we would have kept the same team moving forward if I was healthy and Yao was healthy. I mean, who knows?'”
  • While you were busy sulking at your house and thinking of how you miss the years when your team had that guy who looks like Hitch, there were actual games being played last night (well, I guess there was one here, too, but that didn’t count. For anyone besides Luis, anyway). Like this one, which was apparently great and featured a man being congratulated for coming off of the bench and collecting five fouls. Oh yes, and John Wall and Kobe Bryant.
  • Ah, the life of the NBA backup center. No one really expects you to be much, unless you’re some old hippie legend on his last legs, pay corresponds to the number of inches you are removed from the ground and cigarette breaks come during TV timeouts. And if you’re Chris Dudley, you get to almost be the governor of Oregon and get two fat contracts in your journeyman career, including one never-happened deal with the Knicks that makes for a pretty good story: “What is perhaps even stranger than a team going to arbitration in an attempt to sign Chris Dudley is the fact that the 1997 incident was the second time this sort of thing happened with Chris Dudley!… After the 1992-93 season, Dudley became an unrestricted free agent. He would then sign a seven-year deal with the Portland Trailblazers for $11,000,000. The deal was definitely on the low side for a free agent back-up-level center at the time, especially an in-demand player like Dudley. The Nets, for instance, offered him $10 million more dollars than Portland over less years. In the first year of the contract, Dudley would make under $800,000 (just enough for the Portland Trailblazers to sign him under the salary cap). However, what really drew the NBA’s ire was a clause in the contract where Dudley could opt-out of his contract after the first year and become an unrestricted free agent once again.”
  • The NBA will never be done with the issue of race. No amount of PR or images of Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant hugging will do away with one of humanity’s basest, dumbest impulses: differentiating one from the other and subsequently judging. Even NBA referees can’t avoid it, according to a study by a couple of Ph.D. students at Cornell. Their study reveals the bias that refereeing crews show towards players with regard to race, a bias that even the study’s makers dubbed “unintentional”. I’ll avoid the layers of a debate like this one in a Daily (though I certainly don’t discourage talking about it in the comments), but I can’t imagine how David Stern feels about this.

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