Tracy McGrady turns 34 on Friday, and most would probably assume that the best possible gift he could receive during his birthday week would be his first made basket as a San Antonio Spur. The seven-time All-Star has played just over 15 minutes in total since signing with the team just before the regular season ended, and he’s missed all four shots of his from the field during mostly garbage time spent coming off of the San Antonio bench.
So, the guy has to be itching to get back on the scoreboard, right? To showcase some of that all-around ability that made him one of the NBA’s greats? To make his mark on what could be one last championship run for these Spurs?
Nah, says T-Mac. He just wants to contribute when called upon, doing whatever Spurs coach Gregg Popovich asks. From the San Antonio Express-News:
“It's very different, a championship-caliber organization,” he said.
McGrady discovered the difference in that out-of-the-blue phone call from Spurs coach and president of basketball Gregg Popovich in mid-April.
“A lot of people in the past would tell me one thing, but their actions don't speak what their words were telling me,” he said. “I had a very transparent conversation with Pop. I understood the situation and respected that. It was a great thing, and it was up to me to take that opportunity.
“He said, 'I might play you; I might not, and I need to know if you're cool with that.'
“For him to put that out on Front Street in our first conversation, I said, 'Pop, I'm cool with that. I understand. If called on, I'll be ready; if not, I'll support the guys while I'm here.'”
Monroe, one of the greats in this business, went on to report that McGrady is eight pounds lighter than when he showed up to the Spurs in mid-April, clearly taking advantage of the time off following the regular season, and relative pittance of just 11 Spurs games since their postseason tipped off on April 21.
The comparison to make in the wake of a revelation like this is too easy, but it’s the appropriate one. McGrady was signed to provide wing depth in the absence of the disgruntled and ultimately waived Stephen Jackson. Jackson refused to admit that certain Spurs wings – Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard – were better players than him at this stage of Jackson’s career; and honestly there’s nothing wrong with that. Confidence is key, especially in this league.
What is wrong is rocking the boat, as Jackson apparently was. There weren’t many on record indications of Jackson’s frustrations prior to his release, but he was clearly destructive enough that the Spurs decided to let him go without receiving any compensation in return, less than a year after Jackson’s defense and clutch shooting (however smallish the sample size was) helped the team stay afloat in its Conference finals defeat against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
With Manu’s talents, Green’s shooting, and Leonard’s ascension, Jackson was probably going to receive McGrady-styled minute allotments in the playoffs as it was, even if the Thunder (had the team stayed healthy, sadly) made it to a third round rematch.
In the meantime, between those short bursts, McGrady remains “cool” with it all. Fans tend to perk up when the onetime MVP candidate enters during the ends of one-sided games, but the cheering you hear doesn’t have anything to do with novelty. Fans – knowledgeable Spurs fans, especially – are mindful of McGrady’s past, his gifts, and how a series of bad injuries and bad luck with teammates kept him out of the later stages of the playoffs.
You’d think, at least on the inside, McGrady would be chomping at the bit to lead a 12-2 Spurs run to finish the first quarter. The Spurs don’t work that way, though. McGrady wouldn’t even be on this team if he had designs on bit-chomping, which makes this a perfect pairing.
(We’re chomping at the bit, though. Give Tracy McGrady a bit more playing time, Coach Pop. Be “cool” with it.)