What Does Tracy McGrady Have Left to Prove to the NBA?

D.J. Foster@@fosterdjContributor ISeptember 3, 2014

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Former NBA star Tracy McGrady just might be interested in a comeback, but it's hard to say why that would be.

It's always difficult to understand why great athletes retire from their sport and then later make a comeback. The primary reasons are different for every player, but McGrady is a particularly interesting case study. 

After going to China to play professionally and then retiring from basketball altogether to play professional baseball, McGrady could be flirting with an NBA return at some point this year.

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 13:  Tracy McGrady #1 of the San Antonio Spurs warms-up before taking on the Miami Heat in Game Four of the 2013 NBA Finals at the AT&T Center on June 13, 2013 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agr
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Here's Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Retired seven-time All-Star Tracy McGrady worked out with Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant late this summer in a Southern California gymnasium, testing the preparedness of his body for a possible NBA comeback attempt.

"Yes, I was working out with K.B. to get in shape and see how my body feels," McGrady told Yahoo Sports in an email Tuesday night.

At least two NBA teams were contacted over the summer about their potential interest in McGrady, but none registered a desire to further explore the possibility, league executives told Yahoo Sports.

McGrady is contractually obligated to a lucrative basketball tour of China in October, which would make it impossible for him to try and make an NBA team in training camp. McGrady is still an immensely popular figure in China, dating back to his partnership with Yao Ming on the Houston Rockets.

"The comeback will not happen, unless I have the drive whenever I get back," McGrady told Yahoo in the email.

While a comeback can't be ruled out in general, at least an immediate one can be. 

Would've been fun to see a TMac comeback w/Kobe. Not going to happen. Has China tour in Oct that interferes w/training camp.

— Ric Bucher (@RicBucher) September 3, 2014

More likely than not, McGrady will need to get his legs underneath him and get back in basketball shape before attempting to climb back into the NBA. Working out with Kobe Bryant will certainly help in that regard, but it's probably important to temper expectations even if McGrady does end up returning to the league.

The last we saw of McGrady was with the San Antonio Spurs in the 2012-13 playoffs, where he served as a human victory cigar coming off the bench in garbage time. While McGrady certainly earned his chance to win a ring, it's questionable how much he can actually help a team now at 35 with a long injury history.

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 11:  Tracy McGrady #1 of the San Antonio Spurs while playing against the Miami Heat in Game Three of the 2013 NBA Finals on June 11, 2013 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Aside from winning that championship, which is the one thing McGrady probably won't have on his impressive resume once his career is fully finished, it's hard to see the incentive for T-Mac. He should be in the Hall of Fame, and most acknowledge that before the back injuries took their toll, McGrady was one of the very best players in basketball. 

Ideally, you'd like to see every great athlete go out on top. McGrady is already well past that point, and while you should respect someone for taking on a personal challenge and doing something he feels he needs to do, you wonder how this will impact his legacy. The time with the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks, his two stops before the Spurs, are already something most fans want to forget.

This is an uphill battle any way you look at it, as Mike Prada at SBNation.com explains here:

There's a long way to go and several obstacles to clear. McGrady has been off the grind for over a year, having attempted a baseball career with the Sugarland Skeeters of the Atlantic League. He also has a previous commitment to tour China in October, when training camps are happening. Thus, teams that have been contacted have not really followed up with serious interest, Wojnarowski reports.

Still, the thought of McGrady in the league is sure to bring back memories of when he was one of the league's top talents

Should McGrady return, it would likely be as a midseason acquisition, especially after the trade deadline when teams are trying to fill out rosters for a postseason run.

It's hard not to feel for McGrady. His NBA career was hit with bad luck more than most, as he was saddled with bad teams in his prime, then suffered back injuries that would have slowed anyone down. He's remembered mostly for moments of greatness instead of sustained dominance, like scoring 13 points in 33 seconds.

It's understandable if McGrady wants to recapture some of those moments, futile as it might be. If he feels he has something left in the tank and can't leave the game without knowing he expended every ounce of it, then good on him for recognizing that. Former greats who make failed comebacks often invite ridicule, but McGrady doesn't have to appease or prove anything to anyone but himself.

Ultimately, that's probably the reason most athletes retire and then make comeback attempts. They still have that drive, or they still crave that high level of competition, and nothing else quite satisfies it. McGrady's played through serious injuries for the better half of his entire career. If he gears up to do this, he knows the pain and work that's involved.

Again, McGrady doesn't need anything to prove his legitimacy as one of the great players of his era. That work is already done, whether or not he has a ring to show for it. Getting one now won't change that, but if that's something McGrady wants to experience and an NBA team feels he can contribute to the cause in some way, then more power to him.