Earlier this season, Dime had a photo shoot set up with an NBA player who is notorious within the industry for being difficult with the media. This time, however, the player and his handlers were uncharacteristically cooperative and excited to do this shoot and be on their best professional behavior. Why? Because as his manager told us, Player X believed he had one more big contract left in him, so he wanted to do everything to get more exposure and project a positive image.
I wish I could tell you that Player X’s mindset is a rarity, but that’s how many pro athletes think. The desire to be put in position to win games and simply play at a high level isn’t necessarily the point. It’s all about the next contract.
That player was not Tracy McGrady, but as T-Mac finally leaves Houston today bound for New York, I wonder how he is approaching this new opportunity. Is this purely a basketball move for him, or strictly a money move, like it was for each of the larger entities (Knicks, Rockets, Kings) involved?
From the time T-Mac let it be known he was physically able to play this season, every word out of his mouth has indicated that this isn’t about money — he just wants to play ball. And I believe him.
So what kind of ball will he play in New York? Looking at the roster, there’s no reason McGrady can’t immediately suit up and start at two-guard or small forward, but more likely he’ll be brought along slowly for a few games at least to see where his conditioning is at and how he fits into the system.
Being as objective as I can, I see McGrady playing like Vince Carter has played in Orlando, producing numbers on-par with VC or with Rip Hamilton in Detroit. He’ll score 15-18 points a night with 4-5 rebounds and 3-4 assists; he’ll sit out some games here and there; and when the Knicks need a crunch-time bucket, he’ll be the first place they look.
The biggest obstacle will be simply being able to stay on the court. When T-Mac returned for about a week to the Rockets lineup in December, he looked old and slow, and admittedly had trouble keeping up with the team’s faster pace. Mike D’Antoni hasn’t been running the usual track meet for which he became known for in Phoenix, but the Knicks still play up-tempo and T-Mac will have to learn to stay in the race.
The Knicks shouldn’t have to slow down to accommodate McGrady, but he will thrive more in their half-court sets, where he can post up or hit pull-up jumpers. The days of consistently beating guys off the dribble are done, although Mac did show flashes of explosiveness in his brief Houston cameo.
Defense will also be an issue. Whenever McGrady was on the court this season with the Rockets, opponents identified who he was guarding and made a point to go after him. When it was Jonas Jerebko, no big deal. When it was Carmelo Anthony, the results were disastrous. Mac’s defense should improve in New York as he shakes off the rust and builds up his wind, but he won’t be getting a break until he proves he can stop somebody.
“Microfracture (knee surgery) is not some simple surgery to come back from,” McGrady said the night after he made his season debut. “So far, man, it just feels good to know I’m able to go back on the basketball court and hopefully soon be myself.
“You guys have no idea what I went through. No idea. I don’t have to prove nothing to these guys. I mean, I’m a seven-time All-Star. I’ve got individual accolades that show I can play the game. I need to prove something to myself.”
Forget the next team and the next contract; what happens on the court over the rest of this season is all that matters for now.
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