A few days later, it was announced that McGrady would undergo season-ending microfracture surgery on his left knee. Is it any coincidence that, immediately following the announcement, the Rockets went on to win six straight and 11 of their next 13 games?
Maybe, maybe not.
While McGrady was on the floor last season, he often looked disinterested and out of place, often just standing 30 feet from the basket and passing the ball around the perimeter.
Much like Ron Artest, McGrady's presence and demands for the ball made it difficult for Aaron Brooks to assert himself offensively, making him a much more timid player.
McGrady hasn't played a minute so far this season, and the Rockets are 7-5, in second place in the Southwest Division. This year's Rockets team runs the floor, plays hard on both ends, and shoots a high percentage.
So, it begs the question: Does Tracy McGrady and his style of play fit in with these Rockets? Lots of this depends on which version of McGrady the Rockets will get back once he's ready to hit the hardwood.
Will they get the sluggish, disinterested version they got last year before the surgery?
Or, will they get the dynamic, superstar player that McGrady was for several years before that?
Assuming he's back to being 100 percent healthy, there's no questioning McGrady's abilities. When he's asserting himself and attacking the rim, he's one of the more talented scorers in the league. At 6'8", he's a tough check for smaller guards, and quick enough to get around most forwards.
So, does he fit in with Houston's offensive scheme?
These Rockets rely on ball movement, active cutting, and fast breaks in order to get the best possible shot. For McGrady to do his thing, it typically means the ball stops in his hands, and he goes to work individually, as the other four guys on the court stand and watch.
To be fair, sometimes you need a guy like this that can get you a basket down the stretch in a close game. The Rockets are sorely lacking a crunch-time number one option, and maybe McGrady is that guy for them.
However, it was clear that even before the injury, McGrady was unwilling to run in Rick Adelman's style. Yao Ming wasn't the only reason Adelman had to institute a new kind of offense when he initially came to Houston.
McGrady is a slow-it-down, let me beat my guy one-on-one type of player. The Rockets are a team that beats their opponents down the floor and gets easier shot opportunities. T-Mac must show that he's willing to step in and roll with the team, rather than try and do everything himself.
Could McGrady's return screw up the chemistry the Rockets are currently developing? Obviously, any new player has the opportunity to disrupt a team when they first become a part of it.
Much of it depends on McGrady's attitude.
Based on his uniform-wearing tirade with Rick Adelman before Wednesday's game in Minnesota, there's no question that McGrady wants to be on the floor.
It's just a matter of how he conducts himself. He'll undoubtedly be in a different role than he's used to, at least at first.
The Rockets rely on no one player to do everything for them. They don't have enough size or talent to rely on one or two players just to carry them anymore. The Rockets win as a team, and, so far, it's worked out nicely for them.
However, it's extremely important to note that this is an important time for McGrady personally, as he is in the final year of his contract. Will he want to come in and showcase himself and show that he can still be a franchise player?
However, as evidenced by the current Allen Iverson situation, nobody wants an aging, me-first kind of player. McGrady is going to have to check his ego at the door if he wants to help the Rockets win games.
If he comes in and plays poorly, nobody is going to want to take a chance next summer on a 31-year-old, injury prone, ineffective player. On the other hand, if he gets in there and plays within himself, and does what Rick Adelman wants him to, then he'll be showing people around the league that he's capable of stepping in as a piece on a winning ball club.
Microfracture surgery is a serious procedure for an athlete, and has killed many an NBA career in the past. It's going to be a long road for McGrady, and he may not look like his old self ever again, for all we know.
However, some players have been able to recover fully from the surgery (see: Amar'e Stoudemire) and continue to play at a high level. It's likely that T-Mac's game will never again rely on the explosiveness that it once did, which could hurt him, since he's not an outstanding set-shooter.
That being said, I don't doubt that Tracy McGrady has the overall ability to play at a high level in the NBA again. If he comes in and plays for the team, the Rockets will be better for it, and he will make some money next summer.
If he comes in and plays for himself, the Rockets will flounder, and he'll be struggling to find a job next summer.
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