Tracy McGrady has a basketball resume that would be the envy of about 99.5 percent of 21st century NBA players. He’s made six All-Star games and seven All-NBA teams (two first teams), he’s finished top 10 in MVP voting six times and he’s won the scoring title twice. He’s even posted a PER over 30 for a season, if you’re into that sort of thing, which is something only six other players have ever done, all present-or-future Hall of Famers whose names you know pretty well. He dragged Orlando to the playoffs three straight years when his primary support largely consisted of Mike Miller and Darrell Armstrong, and he was part of the Rockets team that won 22 straight regular season games back in ’08. For a minute there in the early ’00s, Kobe or T-Mac was an argument, arguably. He’s done some things in this league.
What he hasn’t done, obviously and infamously, is win in the playoffs. As numerous as Tracy McGrady’s incredible statistical accomplishments have been, the stat that has most defined him for his career is probably zero, the number of playoff series he’d won to date as an active player before this postseason. The excuses for T-Mac’s lack of playoff success are there, and they’re not negligible — his two primary running mates over the years (Grant Hill in Orlando, Yao Ming in Houston) were constantly injured, and Tracy was rarely the picture of health himself, especially toward the end of his career. Often times the supporting cast that T-Mac took the court with was one that had no business being in the playoffs in the first place, and not once during his six seasons making the playoffs in Orlando or Houston was he on the higher-seeded team in the first round.
As reasonable as these excuses may be, it still hasn’t absolved McGrady in the eyes of many, as players of the strata he occupied in the early to mid ’00s — the Kobes, Duncans, AIs and KGs — are expected, somewhat unfairly, to be able to win in the playoffs, almost regardless of how crappy the rest of their teams may be. The true greats find a way to win when the games matter most. But the fact that Tracy wasn’t even once able to do that is seen as a serious blemish on his basketball resume, which when combined with his relatively brief hoops peak and ugly falling out with a couple of his old teams, has even made his Hall of Fame case a controversial one, despite possibly being one of the 10 best regular season players so far this century.
That’s what’s made this postseason such a weird one for Tracy McGrady. After being out of the league for pretty much the entirety of the regular season, with his eventual return to the NBA far from a certainty, T-Mac was snatched up by Gregg Popovich and the Spurs in mid-April and stashed on their postseason roster, presumably taking the place of veteran forward Stephen Jackson, who was waived just a few days before the Spurs announced their signing of McGrady and deemed more of a detriment to the team than an asset after he’d started complaining about his lack of burn. Now, McGrady has not only crossed the “zero playoff wins” off his resume with San Antonio’s victories over the Lakers and Warriors, but with the Spurs’ sweep over the Grizzlies in the conference finals, he’s four wins away from adding a much more prestigious line item: NBA Champion.
Sounds great, but it doesn’t quite feel right. I had hoped — as had many other hoops fans, I’d think — that even though McGrady would obviously not be a centerpiece of the 2013 Spurs as he was on the playoff teams of his prime, that he’d at least have a role like Captain Jack had in the Spurs’ previous playoff run, playing 15-20 minutes a game as the team’s backup forward, stretching the floor, adding a secondary playmaker and matching up with certain wing players on defense. He wouldn’t be the most important player, or even the seventh-most, but he’d be a real contributor, and maybe he’d have one game where he hit three or four threes and played solid defense on Kevin Durant or Jamal Crawford. It’d be a nice story, certainly, almost regardless of its outcome.
But instead, Tracy has been used as a garbage-time reserve only, playing just 17 minutes all postseason thus far, with not a second of those 17 minutes coming during a game whose outcome had yet to already be decided. His play during that limited stretch has been sporadically inspired, but basically replacement-level — in fact, he’s yet to score a single point for the Spurs, going 0-4 from the field with two assists and two turnovers. He’s not Stephen Jackson for this team, he’s early-season Rasheed Wallace, a familiar face whose entrance makes the fans go crazy, not just because of all the fun hoops memories they have of him, but because his presence in the game means that things have probably been pretty well iced for the home team.
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