After saluting a sure Hall of Famer, Allen Iverson, the biggest Magic killer in Orlando franchise history, news broke Monday of former Magic man Tracy McGrady officially retiring from the NBA. Maybe Tracy can finish dead last in China again. Couldn’t quite get that championship in San Antonio. Never could get out of the first round of the playoffs until this summer, riding his Spurs teammates. His Hall of Fame candidacy has been left in limbo for the time being. 5 years is a long way out and who knows how reporters will view McGrady then. We're already looking at a split down the middle. Some fans and journalists saying 'yes' to granting T-MAC a Hall of Fame ticket, and other writers who say hell no.
All of this doubt and - at best - mediocrity wasn’t associated with T-MAC a decade ago. From 2000 to 2004 Tracy was a member of the Magic. During that time he was arguably better than Kobe Bryant who was Michael Jordan's 'successor'. The laughable folklore goes that if Tracy was with Shaq in Los Angeles that the Lakers win championships from 2000 to 2010. Not a measly 3-peat. Why? Because Tracy was a such a laid back guy in comparison to Kobe that McGrady never would have dared to piss O’Neal off into seeking a new team.
Therein lied the problem. Instead of being viewed as a great athlete with immense talent and having the drive and work ethic to become a superstar like Jordan or Bryant, perception has it that Tracy relied on nothing but natural ability and is viewed like Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, and even cousin Vince. That injuries racked up because Tracy didn’t do the necessary workouts. McGrady left you longing for more. 30-point games should have been 40-pointers. Instead of forty points, he could've gone for 50. Even when Tracy abused Carmelo, or any other team along his 4-year journey, the Magic could still lose because the supporting cast was questionable at best. But man did Tracy have a ridiculous amount of highlight reel moments. Adopting the self-alley oop and making it his baby will keep you in basketball fans' brains forever.
The summer of 2000 was all about Grant Hill...then the 'what if' with Tim Duncan...then John Gabriel possibly winning back-to-back Executive of the Year awards...and then McGrady. I LOVE reading how mad fans rightfully were hating on Gabriel. Tracy was the boy from Auburndale, he was happy to be home. Little did we know what lay ahead. 7 years of Hill 'will he or won't he play' frustration and McGrady christening his 4th professional season by going from a 15-point scorer to averaging 26.8 points per contest that season. It may not have happened had G-Hill not missed 78 regular season contests that '00-'01 season.
2001 Playoffs: 4 games, 33.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 8.3 apg, 1.8 spg, 1.3 bpg
Jesus Christ what a stat line. Too bad the Bucks were better than a one-man show. I was never a fan of McGrady's trash talking. Click to the 4-minute mark of that link and you see T-MAC saying sweet-nothings into Glenn Robinson's ear. But that's how Tracy gained his swagger. Same as cousin Vince.
But Milwaukee, under George Karl's leadership, wasn't afraid of McGrady, and proved it:
"I don't think he's doing anything," Bucks forward Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson said when asked why McGrady is bothering him on both ends of the court. "We're ahead. We're up 2-1 in the series."
Added guard Sam Cassell: "Tracy has played well, but it's not like he is shooting out the lights. He's having to work. He's getting 30-something a game, but he's shooting 40-something percent."
McGrady found a way to always eat his words in the playoffs. Always. It's quite amazing really:
"It's do-or-die again, but we're still very much alive," said Magic star Tracy McGrady. "I think that talk of a sweep was a little too much. We're going back to Milwaukee."
McGrady never did take charge of the game like the Magic hoped he would.
"I was really tired. I don't know why, but I came to the sidelines after the first timeout and my legs felt shot," he said. "I was like I was running in cement. It knew it was going to be a long night for me, but I tried to find some way to get it going."
Maybe he would mature in his second Magic season...
2001-2002 was all about how a potentially studly Tracy could coexist with a supposedly healthy Grant Hill. G-Hill more than tripled his game totals from the previous season... to 14. Progress. McGrady's best game of the '01-'02 season came on March 19th against the Bucks (48 points, 12 boards, 9 assists that ended a 10-game slide to Milwaukee...yeah, that existed) in a season that included numerous 30-point and quite a few 40-pointers. The ascension to super-stardom was set in place. Here's something awesome, fans were dialing up to NBA.com and voting for T-MAC to be MVP that season. Also hot on T-MAC's heels? The Adidas shoe contract and advertising rise.
Spoiler: Magic Win!
2002 Playoffs: 4 games, 30.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 5.5 apg, 1.8 bpg, 0.5 spg
McGrady again shot himself in the foot with the media. FALSE 'GUARANTEE' ALERT:
In addition to McGrady's "guarantee" of a victory tonight, he also was mildly critical of his teammates, saying that Hornets star Baron Davis was overshadowing him in this series because he had a better, more consistent supporting cast.
Although McGrady's statements are probably true, Rivers still cringed at what he heard, especially considering the timing.
"Those weren't the best comments I could have heard. I don't know what he meant by some of them, but we'll just let it rest," Rivers said. "If he wasn't a good guy, a good team guy, then maybe I'd be concerned. But I just don't think his comments came out the way he meant them. And our guys know that."
Damn you, skinnier Baron Davis. This is where McGrady began earning a reputation of not being able to 'up' himself in crunch time of the playoffs. Tracy has hit some game-winners before in the regular season, but T-MAC found ways to disappear late in postseason contests without being double-teamed. Thus, depending on numerous supporting men to knock down some clutch buckets. This is where Penny Hardaway gets the upper leg (no pun intended) in my book when comparing the two on the court.
Let the McGrady doubts creep in. Again, Tracy's body apparently failed him when he needed to rely on it the most:
"I played in a hell of a lot of pain tonight," he said. "I could feel it tighten on me. The doctor came in, did a little work on my back and I go, `I'll go out [to the floor] and I'll be fine.' "
Let's not forget though, McGrady was 23 years old at this point. Still room to grow.
McGrady's legendary 2002-2003 season (JACQUE VAUGHN ALERT) almost didn't happen. Had best friend Mike Miller (injury-riddled even then) not been traded on February 19, 2003 (A great deal in every aspect because Gooden and Giricek helped push Orlando into the postseason), Tracy wouldn't have gone into King Kong mode. What do I mean? McGrady was pissed. He was furious that the Gator got traded. Orlando had a record of 26-29 and just had completed a phenomenal comeback victory against New Orleans the night before. 2 days after Miller gets dealt, out of PURE SPITE, McGrady drops 52 points on the Bulls in 33 minutes in an Orlando win. He dedicated that game to Miller ("This one's for Mike!"). One hit wonder, right? Not quite. 2 nights later in New Jersey McGrady drops a 46-point TRIPLE-DOUBLE! All because McGrady lost his friend.
Tracy would carry that fury-fueled spark all the way into the first round against the Pistons. And then he finally sputtered with the Magic up 3-1 and Doc Rivers not finding anyway to prove Tayshaun Prince's defense ineffective. Orlando let an anorexic tree swing the balance of momentum. Detroit rattles off 3 straight and the aftershock effects would continue into the next season. I've vented my frustration with David Stern's money grab before. Grant Hill played 29 games that campaign, but still had not dressed for a playoff game with Orlando. He wouldn't get that opportunity until 2007 - long after McGrady was gone - Hill's final summer in O-Town. Again, it sucks for Tracy. Although, I should have seen the foreshadowing of future disaster coming when I saw McGrady and Shawn Kemp laughing on the bench as Orlando was being eliminated in Detroit.
David Whitley had an intriguing take on the choke fest:
A lot of people think Tracy McGrady had to, even though he didn't really say anything. He's been roasted from coast to coast for guaranteeing the Magic would advance, then vanishing the final two games.
"I don't know what the deal was on that," McGrady said Monday.
The deal was after Game 4 he said, "For me, a guy who has never experienced playing in the second round, this is great. Being bounced out of the first round for three consecutive years left a bad taste in my mouth."
It was surrounded by qualifiers like, "The series is not over. Detroit is dangerous. We're taking nothing for granted. I drive a Ford."
No matter. The comment was seized upon as the 2003 equivalent of Joe Namath guaranteeing the Jets would take the Super Bowl, only to have the Colts win 67-0.
2003 Playoffs: 7 games, 31.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 4.7 apg, 2.0 spg, 0.9 bpg
That postseason line was just a shade under McGrady's 32.1 ppg, 6.5 ppg, 5.5 apg, 1.7 spg, 0.8 bpg ridiculous regular season stat line. The offseason pressure was officially on. For McGrady. For Rivers. For Gabriel. It would prove too much to overcome and all 3 men buckled. Some sooner than others.
Seriously guys, T-MAC was better than Kobe during those 4 years in Orlando. The tables turned the second McGrady put on a Rockets jersey.
STAT CHECK, PER 36 MINUTES EDITION!
2001 McGrady - 45.7 FG%, 24.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 4.1 apg, 1.4 bpg, 1.4 spg
2001 Bryant - 46.4 FG%, 25.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 4.4 apg, 0.6 bpg, 1.5 spg
2002 McGrady - 45.1 FG%, 24.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 4.9 apg, 0.9 bpg, 1.5 spg
2002 Bryant - 46.9 FG%, 23.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 5.1 apg, 0.4 bpg, 1.4 spg
2003 McGrady - 45.7 FG%, 29.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 5.0 apg, 0.7 bpg, 1.5 spg (Again, should've been MVP)
2003 Bryant - 45.1 FG%, 26.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 5.1 apg, 0.7 bpg, 1.9 spg
2004 McGrady - 41.7 FG%, 25.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 5.0 apg, 0.6 bpg, 1.3 spg
2004 Bryant - 43.8 FG%, 22.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.9 apg, 0.4 bpg, 1.6 spg
Even in the 'lost' 2003-2004 season, an injured (see the subpar shooting percentage), emotionally scarred McGrady in 67 games of action was still better than Kobe.
Speaking of 2004, here's literally one of maybe 3 bright spots that season:
And another good Christmas spirit moment below.
Any spite I hold for T-MAC is as an entire result of what occurred in the '03-'04 disaster of a season. Granted I also blame it on John Gabriel signing Juwan Howard (DON'T GIVE HIM THE PEN, JOHN! DON'T DO IT!), and also the Magic picking the worse jersey ever to celebrate 15 years of existence. An already mentally messed up Gooden (Blame the J-Ho signing) LIKED those atrocities. Oh yeah, and Reece Gaines being on the roster wasn't a plus either. This came literally months after a campaign performance that I believed garnered McGrady the MVP award. It's an impressively unique freefall that was capped off by the fact that Grant Hill didn't suit up for a single ball game.
McGrady's lack of extra work in the offseason finally caught up to him after that Pistons series loss. Michael Doleac would never lie. Johnny Davis has some damning quotes in that Grantland piece. Tracy wasn't in pristine shape and then the lower back pain came as a result of playing catch-up.
Your viewpoint of McGrady is in direct correlation to how one analyzed John Weisbrod's time as General Manager. I supported the man for what he stood for - a bulldozer - most dissed him. Orlando wins the first game of the '03-'04 season. Then lost 10 games. Fire Doc Rivers. Keep losing, and losing, and losing. Gabriel gets let go in March 2004, in comes Weisbrod the 'hockey guy' with Tracy's free agency being 16 months away. Instantly he and McGrady clash. Tracy quits the rest of the season less than 2 weeks after John gets hired. All hell breaks loose for the next few months with mudslinging, mind games, and trade rumors galore until JW finally pulls the trigger and deals 'Me-Mac' to Houston on June 29th for pieces that included the trio of Francis-Mobley-Cato. Bottom line: Tracy didn't want to be in a rebuild situation, hated his coaches, and didn't want to wait to see if Emeka Okafor or Dwight Howard would be decent. I think McGrady secretly knew his body was rapidly falling apart and he wanted to go to a 'better' situation where he could have an improved supporting cast and a chance at winning playoff series.
Tracy's 28.0 points per contest 'won' him his 2nd consecutive scoring title in '03-'04, and also the final of his career. Scary situation (that gives me Penny flashbacks), but T-MAC truly began declining at the age of 25. His back and his legs deteriorated and he just never could overcome those problems in the 3 postseason he experienced with Orlando. In Houston it was same story new address and colors. Tracy was cursed with Yao Ming's injury problems which were almost as burdening as the G-Hill saga. Almost. Still though, Tracy had enough talent and enough coaches through his career that ONE TIME he should have led a roster to the second round. JUST ONCE. I feel bad about Tracy never amounting to what he should've been. Where you won't find me giving sympathy is the fact that McGrady burned an awful lot of bridges throughout his career. You don't get in the Hall of Fame that way.
I will say that McGrady's presser with the Rockets in '04 has a lot of similarities to Dwight's recent one:
Later, McGrady followed up and predicted, "We're going to get it done, trust me."
McGrady's confidence remains consistent. He just endured the worst season he's had since he discovered his stardom, but he now seems unburdened. McGrady left the Magic mentally and physically drained. He left questioning management and with management questioning him. He left hearing that he was lazy, selfish, whiny and unnecessarily impatient.
Final Thought: The Magic should still try and honor McGrady during their 25th Anniversary festivities in some fashion. We had 3 wonderful seasons and one that was a complete nightmare. But that doesn't change the fact that Tracy kept Orlando relevant during the dark days of a franchise that wasn't far from moving to Kansas City. I am grateful for what Tracy did on the parquet and off the court, but he could've done a lot more - in a more humbler manner - on it. Talk all the trash you want, but own up to failure. Don't make excuses for it. Just admit it. Maybe one day he will and all will be forgiven. Until then, we can still reference how McGrady kept the Magic afloat long enough to where Dwight, Jameer, and Stan Van Gundy would eventually grab the reins on the path towards another Finals trip. I'm still happy with that John Weisbrod deal, even if 99% of Magic fans rip into it. History supports me.