I will refrain from commenting on the recent speculation surrounding management’s motivations in handling Tracy McGrady. I can’t offer any insight unique to what has already been said, and I would rather not give way to conjecture.
My preferred subject for discussion is McGrady’s role on this team.
As was the case last season, the Houston Rockets still struggle to score in crunch time. Contrary to the current popular claim, this is not due to some sudden failure to execute. Motion offenses bog down in crunch time because defenses begin to key in on the weak side cuts that provide opportunities earlier in the game. It is no coincidence that almost every NBA champion has placed the ball in the hands of a dominant guard late in close games.
The Houston Rockets simply do not have a player on this team with the ability to make decisions in pressure situations. A healthy Tracy McGrady can be this player. Even if at a 2008 level of low shooting efficiency and hindered athleticism, McGrady will still possess the innate court vision that is nearly unparalleled among wings in this league. He can make a huge contribution to this team because of this unique talent.
Now, with this said, the concern is regarding the other 43 minutes of the game. Is McGrady willing to defend and cut as required by this system? More importantly, can he play with the sustained level of energy that his teammates have established as their greatest strength? Based on his track record, it is reasonable to have doubts.
One possible solution might be to feature him as the “eye” of the storm within the motion offense, similar to Yao Ming’s role in the low post last season. Tracy proved against Utah in 2008 that he is very comfortable operating from the left elbow where he is provided his pet options of jab-stepping for the pull-up to his left or finding teammates while going to his right. I can envision such an offensive scheme with McGrady as the stationary focal point as the other 4 players move around him, playing off of the attention he draws from the defense. However, is such a drastic adjustment to the gameplan even worth all of the trouble?
The question is whether McGrady’s assumed crunch time contributions would offset the detrimental effect of his involvement in the first three quarters. That answer can only be determined on the court.
Rather than casting McGrady off for ten cents on the dollar, as has been the call of the angry mob, he needs to be given a shot. This season, there isn’t much of a risk. The Houston Rockets gain nothing from merely cutting our ties.