After all the high profile free-agent buzz has simmered down, the remaining veterans have been shopping themselves around the League hoping to land a contract with a championship contender (especially those who don’t have rings on their fingers yet). This late in the signing period, though, younger players are getting picked up like New Yorkers in taxi cabs, while the veterans are left on the side of the road holding up signs saying “Will work for veterans minimum.”
Some veterans (like Shaq) have been more fortunate than others. But the fact of the matter is most NBA teams see the older guys as burdens rather than potential contributors. Is it fair that age is the main factor in that assumption? Maybe not, but franchises are just not willing to spend money on the older guys when there is young talent left to be picked up.
Quite frankly, some of the veterans need a reality check.
Had Tracy McGrady advertised himself as a role player as opposed to a contributing starter, he might have landed the Chicago gig and could have given himself a chance at a ring (although farfetched with the Big Three — Boston, Miami, Orlando — in the Eastern Conference). Instead, T-Mac gets a one-year deal with the re-building Detroit Pistons who are considered pretenders rather than contenders. Many see this as an opportunity for T-Mac to show that he’s still got it and a chance to work towards earning a bigger deal, but he had the same opportunity in New York and impressed very few. He’s going to have to make this opportunity count for something since he’s already been given a chance elsewhere and didn’t do much with it.
Picking up a veteran free agent that still thinks he can be a star is a big risk. If the player is convinced he’s still capable of being The Guy, and the rest of the team doesn’t, it can really disrupt team chemistry. It’s almost like going to the park and picking up the old-head that demands the ball on every possession but nobody wants to give him the rock, because he still thinks he’s The Man. If you make the mistake of picking him up, you’re probably going to be playing 4-on-5 out there. T-Mac has one year to prove his doubters wrong and lead the Pistons to some success. If he makes the most out of this opportunity and convinces his teammates to follow his lead, he could potentially be the face of the franchise for his remaining years (at best). At worst, he could disappoint everyone and be in the same boat as Allen Iverson next year.
A.I is still holding up the “Will work for veterans minimum” sign, and unfortunately I don’t think anyone is going to sympathize for The Answer because he still refuses to come off the bench. Iverson had a great career until his fall from greatness. However, he was still given an opportunity to help out a young and improving Memphis squad. He could’ve served as a mentor and even a part-time spark off the bench. Scoring in bunches is what Iverson does. However, now that he’s getting older it may be a bit easier for him to do so in less minutes and against bench competition, but he has yet to realize that. Instead, Iverson was the player that thought he was capable of being The Guy and disrupted team chemistry. That stint may have served as his last real shot at helping a team. However, he didn’t make the best of the opportunity. As of now, Iverson is the old-head at the park waiting to get picked up, and that’s exactly where McGrady could end up if he wastes his opportunity in Detroit.
T-Mac has been fortunate enough to earn this opportunity and it may be his last chance. He claims he can still lead a team and if there was any team in the League that could use a bit of leadership, it’s Detroit. While other veterans are looking to land roles with championship contenders in pursuit of the ring, T-Mac is focusing on rebuilding his rep as one of the NBA’s star players. Signing with Detroit, he’s gave himself a legitimate chance to work his way back into leadership form (if his game is in leadership condition).
If T-Mac really wants to convince people that he is capable of being a key contributor and potential star, he’s going to have to lead the Piston’s to a better season than what’s expected of them, and that might be a difficult task.