Tracy McGrady to China: Is He a Cult Figure or Desperate for a Job?
Even those we believe to be invincible can be made into mere mortals.
Once at the zenith of the NBA's structured list of greatness, Tracy McGrady has hit one of the most staggering declines in league history. After spending the better part of a decade competing for All-NBA honors, T-Mac was told in 2012 that he needed to fight for a roster spot.
A process that pride will not enable to transpire.
Rather than work out and prove his worth in training camp, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reports that McGrady is in the process of finalizing an agreement with Qingdao of the Chinese Basketball Association. This all but ends any chance of his signing with an NBA franchise by the end of 2012.
McGrady is the latest in a chain of former NBA superstars to fall victim to a steep decline in production. Between his plethora of injuries and the lack of playing time that teams are willing to offer him, the former All-Star appears to be well beyond the point of no return.
The question is, does this unheralded fall from the top and move to China make Tracy McGrady a cult figure or simply desperate for a job? Time to uncover the truth.
The unfortunate fact of the matter is that a majority of young NBA fans are unfamiliar with who Tracy McGrady once was as a player. They know him from his current days, which is a tragedy considering how dominant T-Mac once was.
McGrady was a more skilled LeBron James that played shooting guard. For whatever reason, that fact has been lost, which makes it imperative that one understands his full backstory.
The Toronto Raptors drafted McGrady with the ninth overall pick in the 1997 NBA draft. McGrady had come straight out of high school and was the recipient of quite a significant amount of buzz after being named the High School Player of the Year by USA Today.
Although T-Mac walked a line of mediocrity during his first two years in the league, he began to turn things around during the 1999-2000 NBA season. Alongside his third cousin and fellow superstar Vince Carter, McGrady averaged 15.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.1 steals per game.
As a shooting guard, small forward hybrid. Unreal.
T-Mac started 34 games that season and helped lead the Raptors to a 45-37 record, earning the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. After falling 3-0 to the New York Knicks, however, the Raptors decided to shake things up.
McGrady was traded to the Orlando Magic. From there on out, the Raptors were riddled with regret, and T-Mac began to take over the league with no looking back.
Taking Over Orlando
McGrady was an All-Star selection in every season from 2001 to 2007. That's seven appearances, for those keeping track at home, which came by virtue of the fact that the opposing defenses could not prevent him from doing whatever it was he wanted to do with the basketball.
Two scoring titles cough up enough evidence to warrant that claim.
The truth about McGrady, however, is that he was much more than just a scorer. From 2001 to 2009, T-Mac averaged at least 5.0 assists in seven of nine seasons. He also averaged at least 6.0 rebounds in six of nine years and swiped at least one steal in every one of those seasons.
His decade of dominance was well-rounded but lost in the hype surrounding his uncanny ability to light up the scoreboard.
During the 2001 NBA season, McGrady proved to the world why he was a superstar. He upped his season averages from 2000 almost all the way across the board, putting up 26.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks.
This led to his winning the Most Improved Player of the Year award and McGrady's first career All-Star appearance.
Taking Over the NBA
After a standout 2001 season, Tracy McGrady kept the pace in 2002 with averages of 25.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. This earned McGrady first-team All-NBA honors.
Even with such an outstanding level of success, the respect wasn't necessarily there yet. Orlando had gone just 44-38 and found itself with a first-round postseason exit.
2003, however, quieted the critics. T-Mac became a global phenomenon.
During the 2003 NBA season, McGrady won his first of two consecutive scoring titles. He posted mind-blowing season averages of 32.1 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.7 steals on 45.7 percent shooting from the floor and 38.6 percent from beyond the arc.
Yet he missed out on the MVP award due to Tim Duncan's year of brilliance.
The leap to elite had been made. Unfortunately, the postseason was not any kinder to the Magic, as they once again suffered a first-round exit.
An exit that saw T-Mac fight to the bitter end, as the video above displays.
2004 proved to be his final chance with the Magic, and McGrady made the most of it. His season averages of 28.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.4 steals confirmed his status as elite.
Those numbers also won McGrady his second consecutive scoring title.
In his four years with the Orlando Magic, McGrady averaged 28.1 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. Conversations of whether or not T-Mac was the best player in the world had begun to surface.
And then he controversially left town after the Magic failed to make the postseason in 2004 and discovered a sweet city named Houston.
Welcome to Houston
The pairing of Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady was built to be one of legend. Never since the days of Hakeem Olajuwon had there been so much hype surrounding the Houston Rockets.
After a slow first month of the season, McGrady found his groove on December 2, 2004 against the in-state rival Dallas Mavericks. McGrady had averaged just 20.2 points per game during the previous month but erased all negative memories by putting up 48 points, nine rebounds, nine assists, three blocks and two steals.
Although the Rockets lost that game, T-Mac had finally arrived. From there on out, he never looked back.
McGrady had six total games with at least 40 points that season, with 21 outings topping 30. His final season averages sat at 25.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 1.7 steals per game.
Over the following five seasons, those numbers would remain consistent. McGrady would work off Yao Ming to near perfection, scoring at will and facilitating the offense better than most point guards. At one point, he had even led the Rockets to 22 consecutive victories.
Unfortunately, there were two numbers that grew to a much higher level of importance: zero and 165.
McGrady and the Rockets made it past the first round of the postseason zero times, and T-Mac himself missed 165 games due to injury.
Over the span of his 15-year career, McGrady has missed 276 games due to injury. That is an average of 18.4 games missed per season, which equates to an inability to qualify for most end-of-the-year awards.
Had this man been able to stay healthy, McGrady may have finished his career as a first-ballot Hall of Famer and won himself an MVP award or two.
While a member of the Orlando Magic, McGrady was not only at the top of his career, but the healthiest point as well. T-Mac missed 33 games in four years, but 15 of those came in 2004. In every year prior, T-Mac played in at least 75 games.
Leaving Orlando cursed him in more ways than we know. Fortunately for us, we were blessed to enjoy a decade of basketball brilliance.
If that is what we saw, can you imagine what could have been?
To answer the earlier question, McGrady is not desperate for a job. He is a cult icon.
McGrady is an international superstar, specifically in China. After playing with Chinese superstar Yao Ming in Houston, his fanbase in Asia became enormous. To move out to a land where his talents will be appreciated and confidence restored is beyond logical.
It is yet another act of basketball brilliance.
As for his legacy in the NBA, McGrady should go down as one of the best that has ever done it. He deserves to be a Hall of Famer for his decade-long reign over the league.
He deserves to be recognized as one of the game's most well-rounded players ever.
Over the span of his eight years of dominance, McGrady averaged 26.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.5 steals and 0.8 blocks per game. The honors he received only further strengthen that Hall of Fame candidacy.
McGrady won two scoring titles, made seven All-Star Game appearances and was selected to eight All-NBA teams. He also won the 2001 Most Improved Player of the Year award.
Despite never making it out of the first round of the postseason, McGrady is one of the greatest individual postseason performers in NBA history. From 2001 to 2008, T-Mac made six playoff appearances. In that time, he averaged 29.5 points, 6.9 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.1 blocks per game.
We'll never know why T-Mac's teams struggled in the postseason. What we do know, however, is that you can't blame him.
There's no way around this simple fact: McGrady was one of the greatest shooting guards in NBA history. His statistical production is on par with the best of the best, and if he fails to make the Hall of Fame, it would be a complete and utter tragedy.
If we are to honor individual greatness, there are few from the 2000s who can compare to McGrady.
What Will the Future Hold?
As for McGrady's NBA future, don't write him off just yet. The Chinese Basketball Association's season comes to a close in March, which would enable T-Mac to sign with a postseason contender.
A dream that one can only hope comes to fruition.
Although McGrady is far from the player he once was, he deserves to go out on top. With time spent as a superstar in the Chinese spotlight, we may even see McGrady return with a brand new confidence and healthier knees.
As long as he stays healthy, McGrady's future could hold one last run at an ever-elusive NBA championship.
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