"I'm looking forward to something special happening here in Houston, and believe me, something special is going to happen."
Tracy McGrady will miss the rest of the season—possibly to have microfracture knee surgery, according to an ESPN report—and the Houston Rockets should be ecstatic.
No more cat-and-mouse guessing games, no more uncertainty and no more waiting for a former All-Star to suddenly become the player this team thought he could be in 2004.
The Rockets should also be upset. Daryl Morey, Leslie Alexander, and the fans didn't buy what McGrady was selling so he could play doctor and quit on the team when it needed his services most.
I will not pretend to be a medical expert and diagnose what ails McGrady. If he says there is pain, there must be. Lying and giving up are two different things.
Do not feel sorry for him or gulp down this latest excuse. McGrady is quitting on the team for good, and this time, everyone in that locker room can rest easy knowing he won't be back.
Rick Adelman and Morey should have demanded long ago that their wanna-be superstar shut it down for the remainder of the season.
This in-and-out, it's-an-hour-before tipoff, is-he-playing soap opera has been a cancerous distraction. McGrady sat out Tuesday's game against the Nets, and his team did just fine.
Without "T-Mac" contaminating the game with lethargy and defenselessness, the Rockets shellacked the Nets 114-88 in one of their best efforts of the season. How good was it?
The Rockets outrebounded the Nets 56-30, held them to 40 percent shooting with Vince Carter and Brook Lopez firing all the bullets, and outscored them in every quarter.
Von Wafer dropped 19 points, Yao 20 points and 12 rebounds, and Shane Battier poured in a season-high five treys.
The Rockets are 13-6 without McGrady this season, their best mark since he joined the fray. Two years ago, under Jeff Van Gundy's tutelage, a missing-in-action T-Mac was a murderous proposition. The team's record with him in street clothes was sub-.500 by a bunch.
With Morey's front office wizardry, and a post-injury blueprint drawn last season with Yao Ming out, this team can survive sans McGrady.
The Spurs' donation of Luis Scola, the second round find of Carl Landry, Brent Barry, Ron Artest, and Aaron Brooks gives the Rockets enough around Yao, Rafer Alston and Battier to secure a top four seed and home court advantage in the first round.
The team cannot win several playoff rounds without McGrady's abilities, but given the season's abominable and embarrassing turn, just getting there would be a respectable feat.
At 33-21, with seven losses to last-place teams and many more head-scratchers that should have been victories, fans now field lower expectations.
"Injury" is McGrady's way of coping with declining athleticism
If you feel compelled to coddle McGrady as everyone who has ever dealt with him in the Rockets organization does, at least remember what real, licensed doctors said at the beginning of the season.
He would not further damage his knee by playing and should play as part of the rehabilitation process. Every MRI and test done has confirmed that prognosis. Jonathan Feigen and Fran Blinebury of the Houston Chronicle believe he can play.
Nothing has changed, except that McGrady is no longer a supreme athlete. He cannot jump as high as he would like or flush it with the vertical leap he once did.
That is what this is about.
In an early Jan. match against the Raptors, McGrady stood there while Jamario Moon flew by for an easy jam. Even Bill Worrell and Matt Bullard, paid employees of the team, remarked, "Well that's just terrible. He could have done something to stop that."
The comatose Raptors thumped the Rockets 94-73 that night, and McGrady was the fitting leader of the quit job. He quit, and his teammates followed.
McGrady played unevenly in all of these games, and because role players often follow the lead of the most talented player, so did the rest of the team.
Against the Bucks, McGrady clanged eight of nine shots and missed a breakaway dunk. He admitted to receiving a lot of flak for blocking himself at the rim.
His worst performance of the season was the Rockets' worst. They let an Eastern Conference lightweight, missing three starters, pound them from the opening tip.
Van Gundy, Adelman, Morey, and Alexander will stick up for their guy because he has duped them and kidnapped their common sense with his talent-filled teases. They have watched him pour in 15 points in five minutes and score 13 points in 35 seconds. He did that against the champion Spurs in 2005.
How could such a wondrous talent carry around an 0-8 playoff record? How could he not be the player his talent advertises?
Adelman told reporters last week, before a game against the Kings, he had no idea why McGrady was not playing. He then said the hold out was "precautionary."
Van Gundy will chirp indignantly on ABC this Sunday, if asked about it, that McGrady is as good as Kobe Bryant or Dwyane Wade when healthy.
Alexander has already called McGrady a "great competitor." He said emphatically Tuesday afternoon the team would not trade its "superstar."
The Rockets can't trade McGrady. No one wants to take on his horrid $21 million contract, especially when he's not playing.
Who would pay somebody $21 million to quit on his team and sulk about it? Would the New York Knicks at their worst be dumb enough to give away something of value for McGrady?
If the Rockets wanted to trade him for Al Jefferson, Minnesota would have to throw in Mike Miller and Ryan Gomes to make the finances work. He makes more money than Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James.
Plug virtually any All-Star into ESPN's trade machine, and that team would have to give up other valuable pieces to make a deal for McGrady work.
If the ESPN report is correct, Morey tried to screw over Rod Thorn in a T-Mac for Vince Carter and Trenton Hassell swap.
Because Thorn and Kiki Vandeweghe are not morons, they balked at his contract and said "hell no." Thorn countered with a worse screw job—Ron Artest, Shane Battier, Carl Landry, and Luther Head for Carter.
VC15 is not coming to Houston. Mark that down and tune out any report that says otherwise.
The Rockets do not need to overhaul the roster with a trade. McGrady saved the front office the trouble and made his own move. He took off his clown suit and left the circus.
With McGrady out Tuesday night, the Rockets were entertaining for the right reasons. They moved the ball, closed out on shooters, helped each other and communicated on defense, attacked the rim, and looked like they were enjoying themselves.
Wafer and Battier drilled a combined nine three-pointers, and most of them were wide open. Yao came up large when he needed to in the second half and quieted rookie center Lopez. Alston dished 11 dimes and sank some key jumpers.
The Rockets play better when McGrady doesn't. The team has scored impressive wins over the Spurs, Denver Nuggets, two over the rival Utah Jazz, and one on the road against the defending champion Celtics. The team came within a Bryant three-pointer of beating the league-leading Los Angeles Lakers.
So, why has McGrady decided to sit out the rest of the season and undergo a potentially unnecessary operation?
He cannot explain one-for-nine shooting in Milwaukee. He cannot tell his friends why he missed a breakaway dunk or stand the thought of Moon beating him to the rim in such symbolic fashion. He wants medicine to answer what he cannot.
McGrady has the ability to be a high IQ basketball player, but for most of his career, he has relied on his prowess and athleticism to carry his game. McGrady could help the Rockets if he wanted by finding ways to do what his abilities will allow.
His usually hideous free throw shooting improved by 11 percent this season. He can still attack the basket and draw fouls. He can still make passes to open teammates and use his length as a bothersome defensive weapon.
To do those things consistently while experiencing discomfort requires consistent intelligence and McGrady doesn't have that. He jumps before he thinks.
Team can no longer use T-Mac as an excuse
The Rockets supporting cast has too often waited this season for McGrady to swoop in, cape and all, and save them. Landry, Brooks, and Wafer are young and inexperienced players too easily wowed by his presence. They know they can't do what he can.
Adelman hates it when his players stand and watch McGrady try to win the Western Conference by himself. They did that in Toronto and Milwaukee and...you get the idea.
Now, Adelman can devise game plans without worrying hours before tipoff if McGrady's up-in-the-air status will render them useless. He can use these final 28 games to mold a respectable, no-excuses, competitive product.
Wafer, Barry and Head will be inconsistent and not good enough against the Lakers in a seven-game series, but they will make the effort and become part of a winner.
McGrady's sure-fire absence gives the team vital closure.
The players now know the team that played Tuesday night is the one that will joust with everyone else in the West for playoff position.
Rafer Alston, Ron Artest, Shane Battier, Luis Scola, Yao Ming, Von Wafer, Aaron Brooks, Carl Landry, Chuck Hayes, Dikembe Mutombo, Luther Head, Brent Barry—that's the rotation that, for better or worse, will determine how this season ends.
McGrady's gone and so are the excuses.
The truth hurts for T-Mac. He's no Paul Pierce.
At the Rockets media day, McGrady thanked God for the opportunity to play with Artest. Morey had finally given his playoff-winless star guard a third wheel.
Artest, Yao, and McGrady were supposed to team up and roar through the NBA as the Celtics did last year. McGrady would be the next Paul Pierce—the lovable loser who finally had enough talent around him to win a championship.
They would challenge the Lakers and Spurs for Western Conference supremacy, and a long journey would end with a confetti shower and that elusive golden trophy.
McGrady forgot the most important part of the fairy tale: show up and compete.
Pierce did not merely arrive at games last season and expect his team to suddenly win. He shed his reputation as a lackluster defender by often demanding stints on the opponent's best scorer. He made clutch passes and shots and lived up to his billing as "The Captain."
If Kevin Garnett was the Celtics defensive steward, Pierce was the team's leader. He surely suffered through some aches and pains last season. He endured poor performances.
What he didn't do was surrender or complain about it.
What should we call McGrady? "The Flop?"
Alexander, and everyone else who insists McGrady is still a special talent, will eventually realize that no team will ever win a playoff series with him on it.
He may score 28 points in the first half of an elimination game, most of them at the basket, but his first shots of the third quarter will be ill-advised turnaround jumpshots.
He loses focus and has yet, after so many seasons, to learn how to play with his mind instead of his ability.
The truth hurts McGrady. So, to cope with it, he's saying what everyone with sense knew he would long ago.
McGrady can't handle the truth. Fortunately, the rest of the Rockets can.
See you in the second round.