Remembering Tracy McGrady’s career
McGrady’s decision amounted to ditching the Raptors to head back to his home state of Florida, as he received a six-year, $67.5 million max contract as part of a sign-and-trade deal between Toronto and Orlando. He wasted no time with the Magic getting acclimated with the role of franchise player, and all the luxury and glory that come with it.
The Magic has made so much progress in the past two weeks that it’s getting ahead of itself. One week after five-time All-Star Grant Hill announced he would sign with Orlando for a reported $67.5 million over six years, the maximum allowable, forward Tracy McGrady declared his intention to sign a similar deal with the Magic. McGrady, 21, a Florida native, said he was happy because “not too many superstars get a chance to play at home.” That statement requires a 20-second timeout. McGrady, who averaged 15.4 points for the Raptors last season, may have been one of the coveted prizes in this year’s free-agent sweepstakes, but he isn’t a superstar yet. It would be just as premature to consider Orlando a championship-caliber team.
Payne Stewart’s old house belongs to a 21-year-old Orlando Magic swingman who has never gone to college, never made an NBA All-Star team, never won a playoff game, never even been in a starting lineup for an entire season. He grew up in a three-bedroom house with his mother and grandmother just 40 minutes southwest of Orlando, in Auburndale, Fla. Only four years ago, as a junior at Auburndale High, he was suspended from the basketball team for mouthing off to a teacher.
“It’s blind faith,” concedes coach Doc Rivers of the Magic’s decision last summer to pay the 6’8″, 210-pound McGrady $93 million over seven years. “If he begins to meet his potential in a year or two, we can be a great basketball team. We think he can be a scoring version of Scottie Pippen—and Scottie is a pretty good scorer.”
“You can argue that we’re the only team doing well with only one All-Star,” says Orlando coach Doc Rivers. “Then you look at him—at age 21 he’s carrying the burden for the sixth-youngest team in the league.” Being young and supremely talented is not as easy as McGrady makes it look, Rivers adds: “His body is still maturing. That’s why he sleeps so much. You turn off the lights for a film session, and he’s out.”
Almost overnight the Big Sleep (as his teammates call McGrady) has emerged as “one of the top five talents in the league,” according to Bucks general manager Ernie Grunfeld. After serving as a complement to Vince Carter for the last two years with the Raptors, McGrady seemed destined to play a similar role for Hill this season. “I thought he was going to be like Scottie Pippen,” says Rivers. “But Tracy scores too much. I don’t try to compare him to somebody now.”
Although McGrady’s individual play was breathtaking, the Magic never delivered on their potential because Grant Hill played a total of only 47 games over McGrady’s four years in Orlando.
Because McGrady and Grant Hill take up roughly half of Orlando’s cap space, the team doesn’t have the flexibility to acquire a major inside player. McGrady knows that the Magic’s prospects hinge on Hill’s left ankle, which has been operated on three times over the last three seasons—and, according to McGrady, will probably soon go under the knife a fourth time. Last week G.M. John Gabriel said that Hill will rest his ankle for at least another month, after which doctors may perform “minor” surgery to alleviate what they believe is tendinitis.
“I don’t know how Grant can come back,” McGrady says. “But he’s fighting, and I’m not giving up on him. I know a lot of people who would have hung it up already if they were in his position.”
The only benefit of Hill’s absence is that it has accelerated McGrady’s development. “He reminds me of a young Julius Erving in a lot of ways—his length, his athleticism,” says 76ers coach Larry Brown, who will coach McGrady on the Olympic team over the next two summers. “There’s nothing he can’t do.” With a league-leading 30.4 points per game, T-Mac is on his way to becoming the youngest player to average 30 points since Bob McAdoo in 1974-75. “It’s not what I want to do,” he says of his increased offensive output, “but I feel like I’ve got to score a lot for my team to be in games.”
McGrady is not much for false modesty. He knows how good he’s been this season and made his MVP choice clear. “KG has another All-Star, Wally Szczerbiak,” McGrady said before Game 1. “Tim [Duncan] and Kobe are dominant players on dominant teams—they could win it every year. But with what I accomplished individually and for my team, I think I deserve it.”
McGrady never garnered that recognition, but he did make the All-NBA first team in 2002 and ’03. Before the Magic won a single playoff series in the McGrady era, he was traded to the Rockets in 2004 on the heels of a 21-61 season that saw the firing of coach Doc Rivers and reports of friction between McGrady and new GM John Weisbrod. McGrady, now 25, was packaged with Juwan Howard, Tyronn Lue and Reece Gaines for Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley and Kelvin Cato.