It ain’t hard to tell when the shine from a star player in the NBA starts to tarnish. Their jerseys go from filling everyone’s wardrobes to lining discount rails. Their names go out from rappers mouths to the keystrokes of a negative blog.
Tracy McGrady is an example of a guy who’s gone from being talked about in households and barbershops to becoming a mere afterthought. Jay-Z’s no longer talking about “banging like T-Mac” instead he’s “paying Dwyane Wade”. T-Mac’s end of season trade to the Knicks saw him playing in the Mecca of basketball. In his contract year in the Big Apple however he found it difficult breaking through to the team’s core? Now Tracy’s free, but for how long?
Tracy’s career to this point has been a mix of defining moment highlights and great expectations turned into sour disappointment. This however isn’t something that is his fault. He has suffered the type of niggling injuries that can be career ending or devastating to a star player’s legacy. There are players that stay strong and consistent through their careers like Reggie Miller and then there are the guys like Penny Hardaway, which (to no fault of their own) could have been so much more if they lasted longer.
Tracy was right there with guys like Kobe and Vince Carter as an heir apparent to Jordan’s throne. Nowadays however the baton of star status has been passed to the likes of Lebron, Wade and Melo. It doesn’t seem long at all since Tracy’s was shining in the limelight but it’s been many years since he’s been a perennial player in this league.
Tracy’s ‘commercial’ success had him on many billboards and television screens. His swagger was Mick Jagger when he was featured in an ‘Adidas’ advert showing how dominant he was. A vast array of offensive firepower where on display to the soundtrack of Baby and The Clipse. Fast forward to today and fans are left thinking ‘What happened to that boy’? T-Mac isn’t as high profile as he was or featuring in as many commercials as he once did.
We’ve gotten out of our seats when we’ve seen Tracy dish the ball off the glass to himself for a dunk but we’ve also looked in disbelief as he blocked his own lay up against Milwaukee some years back.
We’ve been amazed as he dropped 13 points in 33 seconds against San Antonio, but we’ve also felt the pain of yet another first round playoff loss, as we witnessed the speechless press conference where McGrady’s tears said it all. Although these tears may have garnered more laughter then sympathy was this really the emotions of a cry-baby or a player truly driven to do more?
Tracy’s journey to the top began up north with his cousin Vince Carter in Toronto. If people couldn’t see the rise of these two guys in Canada then they certainly saw what they were both capable of in the electrifying year 2000 Slam Dunk Contest. The future stars of basketball never looked more exciting. This partnership (although rooted in kin) wasn’t destined to last however and Tracy was off to much hotter climates in Florida.
At Orlando the initial hype of McGrady teaming up with Grant Hill was immense. People were talking dominance and rings. Unfortunately though Hill was another elite player who’s career would be dominated by more time on the chilling list then the court.
Tracy’s one-two punch with Yao Ming in Houston lasted a bit longer. McGrady was an upgrade from Steve Francis and Yao and Mac’s styles looked to compliment each other similar to the way Shaq and Kobe’s did in the Lakers three peat years. This Houston team set out to dominate for the first time since the dream shake left the building. Then injuries yet again seriously reduced the amount of time this partnership had to develop.
Following this, younger players began to develop, rounding out Houston into a better team. Then with the addition of guys like Trevor Ariza it seemed these Rockets didn’t need as much Mac as before to propel them further. This league is fast paced, slow down and you’ll be taken over.
This is a business plain and simple and if players are not always around then they can quickly be forgotten. This is what happens when you only play an injury-ravaged 35 games last season, despite averaging a more than solid 15.6ppg, 5.0apg and 4.4rpg. Even if all Tracy wanted to do was get down to business last season his year ended up being all suit and tie.
Tracy Houston problems continued this season with his knee, disputes over when he’d return and lower averages across the board (3.2ppg, 0.8rpg, 1.0apg). The last time Mac suited up in red and white was December 23rd and the last time he went up against big competition was when he was torched for 11 points in 7 and a half minutes by Carmelo Anthony. That baton wasn’t about to be passed back anytime soon.
So the only thing that then changed hands was McGrady. At the trade deadline Tracy was part of a 3 team, 9 player blockbuster that sent him to New York. Once again- just like old times- everyone was watching.
The Knicks needed a star of McGrady’s stature to liberate themselves and McGrady needed some redemption himself. The problem though with Tracy’s history of injuries is whether that ‘star power’ was still in the tank or in the rear-view. Questions are being asked of what he could still do.
There was no doubt in those sleepy eyes of McGrady during his Knick debut against Oklahoma however. He was all Kanye West, ‘Graduation’, track 3. Despite his injuries he took the ball to the rack hard, several times over. He also swooped in for a classic, sweet reverse layup that never gets old. His jumper looked good and so did his confidence as he flexed his muscles and rubbed his fingers in celebration.
He even hit a crunch time shot with 1:34 to go in the 4th. It didn’t ice the game because the Knicks got froze out, but Tracy still looked good in the clutch. So despite playing on the losing team Tracy won over a couple of naysayers on his way to 23 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists in 32 minutes of burn.
Since then he averaged a respectable 8.2ppg, 3.10rpg, and 3.3apg for the Knicks, numbers that may not be on the level of the player he used to be but recognise that he was still getting his feet wet at a new ball club after spending extended time on the injury list. The NBA may not have seen all Mac can still do as of yet.
Injuries are still a problem now however as T-Mac’s lingering knee trouble kept him on day to day and on the pine more then it did on the court during his last days as a Knick. The positive sign however was that when Tracy was on the court he playing hard. Just like when he went for 23 points in 25 minutes. So Trace is still a guy who can drop 20 on any given night, just imagine if he ever gets back to 100%.
Forget about imagining it because Tracy could be receiving a full time gig for next season. After working out for the Chicago Bulls recently Mac could be back. A strong team with talent in depth is exactly what Trace needs at this point in his career. As for Chicago, they could use the experience of a big time player, with big game experience, could T-Mac be the perfect fit?