On McGrady – Part 5

2010 February 23
by rahat huq

In six seasons with the Houston Rockets, Tracy McGrady averaged 19.2ppg. In his four healthy years with the team, he put up 24.1ppg, peaking out at 25.7ppg in 2004-2005.

McGrady is unfulfillment personified, the most uniquely gifted player this league has ever seen, but likely to be remembered as the biggest “loser” in its history.

He not only had the vision and length that Jordan and Kobe didn’t, but also the fine footwork that Lebron has still yet to develop.  At 6’8, with a handle matched only by the league’s point-men, and raw springs bestowed from the heavens, McGrady possessed a tantalizing mix of gifts and painstakingly developed talents that should have ensured a place among the league’s legends.

But ultimately, his legacy will be as history’s biggest loser.  The 90’s quartet of Stockton, Malone, Ewing, and Barkley became infamous for their inability to capture the throne, the punchlines of much derision; in our era, T-Mac has not even passed the first round.

But to appraise a man’s worth by such simplistic calculus is a grave injustice.

It is true that McGrady could have done more – he refused to drive in the final seven minutes of Game 7 in ’07 with the Jazz in the penalty; he disappeared completely in the deciding 3rd quarter of Game 6 against Utah in ’08, deferring to an aging—and hopelessly ineffective–Bobby Jackson; and he missed almost 2/3 of his shots in Game 7 against the Mavericks in ’05.  Yes, there was much he could have done – I completely concede he wasn’t perfect.  But the stigma still is unfair.

The presumption we hold that our deified heroes should persevere over all, circumstances be damned–and that failure is reflective of some tragic flaw—is simply too Pollyannaish.  One could say that McGrady didn’t have killer instinct but it must be considered that it takes a toll carrying an overmatched team by oneself through an entire playoff series.  Even Jordan never succeeded at this task (in the years before Pippen) but the fact that he probably later could have should not serve as indictment upon McGrady.  And why are Kobe’s failures prior to the arrival of Gasol so readily overlooked?

In the case of McGrady, we make no effort to uphold the truth because while he deserves it, his very nature impedes our conveyance of sympathy.  He just finds a way to invite criticism.  His propensity to explicitly verbalize things already implicitly acknowledged does the utmost damage to his cause.  Dwyane Wade never tells reporters he doesn’t have help.

But for historical integrity, it is our duty to look back on what McGrady did do for this team.  Really, he carried it until his body simply no longer would allow the feat.  There were nights when he was all the Houston Rockets had, a depleted roster in tow, and Yao still not having mastered the ability to not foul.  Yet still, there they were, always winning 50 games on the strength of a suffocating defense and the passes fulgurating out of McGrady’s right arm.

In eulogy, we immortalize 13 in 33 as his greatest moment, but really that only serves to reduce his contributions to ephemeral paranormality.  What he meant for this franchise was so much more than that half-minute brush with God.

In ’05, he was arguably the best player in our conference, guiding the team on a torrid pace after a lackluster start.  And later that year against Dallas, we viewed greatness through the tragic lens, watching all that it took him to merely keep us in games.  McGrady did not only score, but he set up every play, guarded Nowitzki because no one else stood a chance, and even brought the ball up himself when our guards proved incapable of even that.  The few minutes he would rest to catch his breath, all would collapse.

His finest hour was undoubtedly The Streak, the achievement of which was breathtaking to witness.  It wasn’t the classical bamboozlement we have come to associate with such prolonged dominance in sports.  It was perfection at the margins, emotional exhaustion at its very apex.  With just one botched rotation, one surrendered offensive board, all that had been built would have come crumbling.  And there was Tracy at the start of every play, palming the ball in his right hand, the head of the monster, 48 minutes every night.

Tracy McGrady did more with less than did Kobe, but the latter will forever be immortalized for his accomplishments upon privilege.  The McGrady tragedy is that once the cavalry did arrive, his body had completely failed him.  His regression from the age of 25 to 30 was more painful to witness than was Hakeem’s from 32 to 37.  Once a graceful gazelle, towards the end of his tenure, McGrady could barely move.

He was one of the greatest players in this franchise’s history, but he won’t be remembered as such.  We slothfully push to the backs of our minds what he did do—disregard the help he never had—because it’s far more convenient to ignore the past; he hasn’t done anything for us in the present.  It’s unfortunate, but so it usually goes in sports.

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  • Kade
    I don't buy the unlucky part at all. We are talking about a player who on more than one occasion (three?) has had a chance to eliminate the other team and advance to the second round and couldn't. We can make any excuse about any player but the truly great ones simply win when it counts. TMac has never done that in his career.
  • VBG509
    But he's stepped up his game in the playoffs. This is like blaming pre Boston KG for sucking because his team sucked.

    Now Garnett is suddenly a winner because he is surrounded by talent.
  • Kade
    I don't remember TMAC stepping up in a final game or elimination game to send them into the second round of the playoffs. Ever. In fact in many cases he was a ghost on both sides of the ball. As for KG, they also had Ray and PP and KG was a winner for one season with two hall of fame players with him.
  • VBG509
    I meant, KG was always on a terrible team except 1 season and he's not considered a loser.

    Game 6 against the Mavs before the 40 point loss. Win and stay alive and T-Mac played brilliant.

    Game 7 against Jazz in 07 he played well. 29 points, 13 assists, 3 blocks.

    Game 6 against Jazz in 08 he played solidly with 40 points again.
  • Kade
    As I alluded to before, check out his 4th quarter stats. A player who leads his team and can't get out of the first round ever falls on him. No excuses.
  • VBG509
    I think this shows how unlucky T-Mac is.

    In 2002-2003 they changed the first round to 7 games.

    T-Mac and Orlando go up 3-1 against the number 1 seed before losing. If that happened a year ago, T-Mac would be a legend for upsetting the top seed alone. But oh well, he sucks cauz he lost right?

    Same season, regular season PER. T-Mac's was over 30. 2nd highest for people who played half the season at least was Darell Armstrong at 14.7. 15 is the league average. Except for T-Mac, his whole team was below average. Yet somehow he led the team into the playoffs.
  • rahat_huq
    kade - I have a piece on Yao coming sometime in the next few weeks.
  • Kade
    Excellent RH
  • drae110790
    Dam most oof you guys are right. Tracy McGrady was and still is my favorite player but it just sad at how unfortunate his career has been. I always wanted hum to win big or at least get out of the 1st round something to atleast keep him motivated to keep working hard but none of it has happen. I hate watching him play now. I want him to break out so bad and just play like he used to but i know he can not. His stats been decreasing ever since he reached houston. Now he's in new york and im scared he won't even be in the nba much longer... Its just really sad, people hate him, people down him, he can't win, he's losing skills. I wish i could know how t-mac feels. Despite all the negative i think he will always be my fav till he retires..
  • Kade
    I have seen TMac enough to know that leaders, clear cut stars, there job is to take over games in critical playoff games in the 4th quarter, not pass your shots off to lesser tier players. Win or lose. The problem is that with TMac and Yao, both are great players but in terms of having "IT" I just don't see it. They can't be the alpha dog / ride on my shoulders to the next round kind of players. I wish they were but they are not. The Utah series was horrible, in fact they were up on both years and only needed one win to close them out. They didn't. If they never had a chance from the beginning that's understandable but when you are up and able to close out a team a player deemed one of the best / a true star needs to be there to ensure he gets to the next round.
    I have no issues with a player speaking honestly but if you can't back it up you come off looking like a phony. You talk the talk then you need to show your dominance in the series closing out games in the 4th. No passing off to Sura, no absent on defense, just back up your words. That was one of my biggest issues with him. He would talk about "his team" then act like a role player when we needed him most.
    I'll take a canned reply talk from a player who simply dominates when it counts over a player who is candid but doesn't back up his words.

    rahat_huq - I would love to start a discussion on Yao. What are your thoughts about him coming back? I know Morey has said on podcasts that once he gets back they will be much better but are they secretly assuming he'll get injured again and molding their team in the highly likelihood than he'll not stay injury free? We are talking about a career 20/10 player and while that's solid that's not really the kind of stats a super star player should have given his size. Heck, over the last few seasons David Lee has 20/10 so why isn't he considered a better player? I would rather take him on than worry about when Yao goes down again. I hope I'm wrong but I'll be shocked if Yao can ever play an entire season - playoffs w/o getting injured again.
  • ZK
    great post. only thing i would add is that he could still recover from microfracture and help a good team win a ring next year. of course, these last 2 games with the knicks don't bode well for that prediction, but he still has a shot...
  • zk
    oh, and he only lost 1 playoff series that he should have won, '07 against utah. every other series his team was severely outmanned, don't let the overachievements of the dallas series and magic v. pistons series fool you. mcgrady's team was clearly not as good.

    funny how when kobe blew a 3-1 lead against the suns, he was praised for nearly lifting a bad team to a huge upset. t-mac has been killed for the 3-1 detroit loss for years. yes, he didn't help himself by speaking too soon about being out of the first round. but really, why does it bother anyone that he speaks honestly? i enjoy listening to his candid interviews much more than the canned responses 98% of the guys in the league give
  • Kade
    Am I the only one who saw T-Mac vanish in playoff 4th quarters? What I disliked about him was that he would always say "my team" yet in crucial playoff games he would get his stats then come 4th quarter would not only pass up his shots but fail to cover his player defensively. It's a shame but what separates him from the likes of Kobe, Hakeem, etc. is heart. To not win one playoff series in his career speaks volumes. Too bad he didn't get a chance to play with an alpha dog true leader with the Rockets which is his natural fitting order, just like Pippen was to Jordan.
  • Erod
    Exactly!!! Tracy McGrady has been scapegoated for as long as he's been here. He was never surrounded by a good supporting cast in the beginning, and then when he was, there were injuries (to either him or Yao or both). Rockets had a lot of bad luck during these past years. I think the egotistical T-Mac came out because he got tired of everybody blaming him for everything when in fact his stats were pretty damn good most of the time. I know the "W" matters in the end, but it's surprising how he gets praised for a good game because of his stats when they win, but when they lose and he has comparable stats he somehow didn't play well.

    Tracy McGrady - A victim of circumstances IMO.
  • It's a shame those early Rockets teams didn't have better supporting casts. That was the real downfall of those squads.

    To think what McGrady (3-4 years ago) and a healthy Yao Ming could do with what Morey has built ... with players like Scola, Battier, Ariza, Landry, Hayes, Brooks and Lowry. Truly a Championship caliber team.
  • Texas
    I think Red94 is on with this one.

    "The McGrady tragedy is that once the cavalry did arrive, his body had completely failed him."

    Love him or hate him, I think we could all possibly/maybe agree that T-Mac did have to play through some unfortunate situations.
  • Pest Ctrl
    IMO what doomed Mcgrady was his unique blend of talent. He could do everything, slash, shoot, pass, create easy shots for his teammates with just a simple motion of his body. He was so efficient and effective, and aesthetically pleasing, doing all of these, that he became the sole offense of his team. His team was at its absolute best when he palmed the ball in his hand, glaring down at his defender, then blew past him as if he wasn't even there. Everything goes through him, everyone was watching, and waiting for him to create for them. He never learned how to play off of Yao, or off of anyone; he never mastered how to move around without the ball and get himself an easy shot, he never really utilized his amazing footwork by posting up in the paint, because the best offense was when he had the ball in his hand at the top of the key, every single play. That load was too heavy for any one player to carry, especially when the roster was thinned down by all the injuries. His talent made him play that way, and his body just betrayed him. It's really sad now watching him play on the Knicks. He clearly doesn't have that otherworldly athleticism anymore, yet he doesn't know any other way to play the game besides holding the ball at the 3pt line and try to make something happen.
  • Qrazy
    T-Mac was a disappointment from day one. The minute he put on the Rocket's uniform, it was like utter disgust. He was never a player of Kobe's caliber. Mac is selfish, has a bad attitude, very egotistical and cannot seem to cope with reality. While Kobe is the opposite of those things. Now, I'm no Kobe fan or Lakers fan but I am a Houston Rockets fan. Been one ever since the day I was conceived down at Memorial Hermann. Back to the subject at hand, I will call it like how I see it. You fools need to realize how many times your beloved player put his needs before the team's. Or how many times he quited on the team. Or how he never ran the play that was designed; under JVG or Rick. Not to mention his overall lazy persona which accounts for his lackluster defense. For Tracy, the game of basketball was always about the money/fame and never about the love/desire. One can only imagine the atrocity of distress which now dwells inside Mcgrady's heart.
  • bob schmidt
    Kobe isn't selfish, egotistical, and has great attitude? Maybe we ought to ask Shaq about that. Kobe is a great player, but his stats are comparable to tmac when he was healthy. Anyone who doesn't think that Kobe has as much ego as tmac will have to join the rest of us fools I guess.

    You can hate tmac all that you want, but calling other posters fools is b.s. Get a life.
  • Mike B.
    There probably is some truth to Mcgrady always being about himself, but who isn't when it really comes down to it? Mcgrady through the '07 playoff loss to the Jazz wanted to win as badly as anyone on the team, and performed at a high enough caliber to be talked about in the same conversation as Kobe (Kobe obviously has had the better career). Up until then, I don't think he was selfish at all. As a matter of fact, he was everything you could ask from your star player.

    The '08 season is when it turned, even though he did turn it on in the second series with the Jazz. It seems like you're basing his whole Rockets career on the last two years. Before that, he was elite and gave his all to the team.
  • rahat_huq
    jesse - i never said nor implied that tmac was/is better than kobe.

    bob - if tmac had carl's personality, he would be yao (in our eyes.)

    mike - i too hope he gets a chance. he was a good guy who just couldn't get it done.

    bushy top - interesting insight. also consider that everyone tmac's age worshipped penny growing up while everyone in this current generation (durant) worshipped tmac growing up

    easy - i think JVG was great. i imagine what it would have been like with morey rather than CD.
  • Easy
    If only we could know what if ... they had Adelman-Morey instead of JVG-CD in those TMac years.

    How would Adelman use McGrady and Yao? How would Morey build a team around the two stars?
  • jesse
    You're absolutely crazy if you think T-Mac is/was better than Kobe. T-Mac himself has often said that Kobe's the best. If Kobe played on those T-Mac teams, Kobe's numbers would've been through the roof. He didn't have to do that, true. T-Mac was a stud, no denying, but there's a very fine line between the greats and greatest(s). Kobe belongs in the best of all time list along with the other bball immortals. T-Mac belongs in the conversation with others greats who couldn't quite become greatest (Ewing, Barkely, etc.).
  • On McGrady – Part 5: http://www.red94.net/?p=1108 via @addthis TMAC IS ONE OF THE GREATEST. FUCK THE HATERS
  • thirdcoastborn
    I did not like some of his antics with his injuries, but he was a good player when healthy. He got a bad rap for never getting out the first round, because those years with Orlando in the playoffs Grant Hill was hurt, and Yao also had injuries. Both of those teams were built to have two stars, but with injuries to Hill and Yao, McGrady had to do it by himself, getting all the blame. I think he comes back fully from the surgery just less explosive.
  • tmac is a once a generation type talent. much like penny hardaway, we only got a glimpse. i had the chance to watch penny hardaway in person at the us olympic festival in mpls and was blown away. he came back that fall for a non-conference game at williams arena against the gophers and was unbelievable again. all you could think about was "this is like watching magic." i had the chance to play against tmac in aau ball and had the same reaction -- magic reincarnate. same thing early in his career. not that tracy's story is done being written, but no matter what i'm going to remember him as "what if?" and not "what the fuck?"

    another example of the hype machine that is 24hour news cycles being disconnected with reality. we call kids the next jordan when they're still in high school, call a kid baby jordan bc he can score and has decided to mimic every jordan mannerism (much like myself -- except the scoring part), and then absolutely slam him the second he can't reach these insane expectations.
  • Patrick
    This is straight from my facebook status update. The day after the trade:

    "Wow.. Tracy McGrady is a lot like my Ex's. Very promising at first(championship), got better(13pts in 35sec @SA), peaked at a historic high(22gm winning streak), started to crumble and made excuses to friends(not gettting out of 1st Rd), got in fights(Rick Adelman), knew it was over(banishing), but now that theyre gone(trade) ....i kinda miss them! ...As far as you know. haha"

    I agree with what you wrote. He carried us as far as we could go. During the his Rockets glory years '04 - '07. They usually wouldnt show the 1st Rd series on TV in Corpus Christi, TX because of the Spurs and i would have to watch Gamecast on ESPN. Nothing was more upsetting than seeing McGrady finish w/ 27pts 9rbs and 12ast and watch the Rockets lose again to the Jazz because of a washed up Bob Sura. I remember the McGrady you talk about.. Its sad it didnt end the way it should have.
  • Mike
    Bob Sura wasn't on the team when we lost to the Jazz. He was on the '05 team that lost to the Mavs, and performed well in that series from what I remember.
  • simeon
    Not sure how you can compare Kobe to McGrady when McGrady had the best center in the league playing alongside him and still couldn't get past the first round.
  • rahat_huq
    1. in '05 he could hardly stay on the court due to foul trouble and when he was on it, was a total defensive liability as dallas went small

    2. in '07, he shot miserably against okur single coverage and again was a total defensive liability as he could guard neither okur or boozer.

    3. in '08 he wasn't in uniform.
  • jason b.
    replete with a serenity that transcends happiness and sorrow.
  • mike ainsworth
    I love your take on Mac. I love everything Mac did for the Rockets. He is the reason I became a fan of them again. He may have a big ego, and a dumb mouth, but all I saw from Mac was a man carrying a team till he couldn't carry it anymore. Loved watching him play, loved watching him pass, loved watching his jump shots and loved when he had the ability to take it to the rack and jam it with the best in history. I don't get why more people don't like Mac, failure is an easier thing to relate to for most people than constant success..

    Wish none of this would have ever happened (last year.5)

    I hope T-Mac has an opportunity to win a championship in the next few years. Always thought I'd see him and Yao hoisting a trophy together, but alas.
  • bob schmidt
    Tmac is a good example of the expression "what have you done for me lately." Unfortunately, his legacy in Houston will always be tainted by his personality. Imagine if he had the personality of a Carl Landry. I appreciated Tmac's game, and wish that everyone would give him his due.
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