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Art Garcia

Tracy McGrady is more valuable to the Knicks for the cap space he can save than his jumper.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Contract status as important as basketball stats these days

Posted Feb 23 2010 5:06PM

Tracy McGrady might as well drop No. 3 off the back of his freshly minted Knicks jersey and replace it with 22,483,124. As far as New York is concerned, those eight figures define T-Mac better than, well, T-Mac.

This is an age in which salary figures and cap hits and expiring contracts are more important than talent for a number of players, when a seven-time All-Star is little more than a means to end. In McGrady's case, the back-to-back scoring champ is being used to recruit another scoring champ.

The Knicks will cut T-Mac to lure LeBron James.

New York's excitement is the $32-plus million in salary cap room looming this summer. Trades that were once based on the talent -- weren't they? -- have nearly gone the way of Chuck Taylors. It's hardly breaking news that most transactions these days are financially motivated.

"That happened before in the past, but it's maybe happening more now," Suns veteran Grant Hill said. "It's unfortunate but it's indicative of the economy and what's going on. I think everybody is adapting and changing.

"I know as long as I've been in the league, being a taxpayer and an investor, for the most part we've had a nice ride. Things are obviously changing and we're starting to see the effects now in the league. It's unfortunate, but it's unfortunate all across the board."

While it's likely McGrady won't return to the Big Apple next season -- the Knicks have to renounce his rights to get all that space -- the rest of this season is hardly meaningless to him. T-Mac has to show there's still something in the tank.

"I'm definitely showcasing myself, but at the same time I'm happy to be back playing basketball," McGrady said. "This is what I truly love and I'm enjoying playing in the bright lights. I've missed this game. I've been away for so long.

"It's just the excitement of being back and then whatever happens after this year, it happens. I want to be here though, because I think they got enough room to bring two great guys in here that can help turn this franchise around and I want to be a part of that."

McGrady isn't alone in singing for his supper. Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Josh Howard, Marcus Camby, Brendan Haywood, Tyrus Thomas, Steve Blake, Travis Outlaw, Joe Alexander and Hakim Warrick are among those traded last week who will hit the open market this summer.

Some don't necessarily see the current climate of trades having a bottom-line component. The formula of dumping big contracts and starting over has proven effective if done right. The Hornets, Grizzlies, Thunder and Blazers are the most obvious examples of teams flipping the roster and building a winner.

The Knicks, Timberwolves, Wizards and Nets hope to do the same.

"This league is based on winning and finances -- it's either one way or the other," Pacers forward Mike Dunleavy said. "There are about eight teams that feel they have a chance to go deep in the playoffs and play for a title. For the rest of the league, the best situation for you is to jockey for cap space. It's never been more apparent than now."

And expect it to continue next season as clubs brace for more free agency and a new collective bargaining agreement.

"Ultimately there's been a lot of success for teams that have unloaded people," Dunleavy said. "Look at the New Orleans Hornets. They get rid of Baron Davis for expiring contracts years back, and get Chris Paul in the draft and sign some free agents.

"You see the richer teams trying to rob the poor teams, but both teams are getting what they want. Whether they knew what they were doing or not, it's worked out for a lot of teams who have shed players."

Mark Cuban believes it's possible for team to rebuild while they contend. The Mavericks are headed to the playoffs for the 10th straight year. The only constant has been Dirk Nowitzki. Cuban could have conceivably gone the Kevin Garnett or Pau Gasol route with Nowitzki, but that seemed too risky even for the noted risk taker.

"If you do a good job drafting and plugging in players, sometimes you get lucky," Cuban said. "If you happen to have Draft picks in a bad Draft, it can set you back. My first year, 2000, we ended buying and trading for three [first-round] picks in the worst possible Draft ever. You just don't know. If fortune shines on you, it can work out really, really well."

T-Mac isn't concerned with the big picture. As an expiring contract coming off major knee surgery, his future is now.

"Rightfully so," said McGrady, averaging 20.5 points in his first two games with New York. "I've been away from the game and no one knows what I can do. It's the type of surgery that ends careers. That doesn't bother me at all. That's why this is an audition for me for my future."

Adam Zagoria contributed to this report.

Art Garcia has covered the NBA since 1999. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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