It’s amazing to think back, even though it was really only a little more than three months ago, how much of a difference you can see now with Tracy. He was disappointed in how his legs responded in that game and figured he better not play any more in the season and now … well, now Tracy McGrady is one of the unquestioned leaders of this team.
It’s been fun to watch his progress from week to week as he gets healthier and the level of his play just keeps going up and up along with it. And let’s not forget – he had a lot to come back from. I don’t know if everybody in the league thought he could, but obviously Joe D did – or at least he thought there was a darn good chance of it.
When you bet on somebody making their recovery, you’re also betting on them and their mental toughness, their drive and their willingness to work at it. And T-Mac obviously has all of that on his side. Then don’t forget the unbelievable skill of Arnie Kander, who has made Tracy one of his pet projects. He told us all along that the time will come – just let us do what we need to do to get him back on the court.
To see him make the transition to point guard has been equally amazing. I thought he would score and not turn it over and make good decisions. I thought he’d play some shooting guard and some small forward. And I thought he would quite possibly turn out to be an important part of the rotation. But I’ll admit, for him to become such a rock for this team at point guard was more than I ever envisioned.
I think it speaks to the fact that too many people around the NBA – maybe not the decision-makers, necessarily, but too many others – write off older players. Tracy’s not all that old. Let’s remember, he’s only 31 and should have some prime years ahead of him if his health doesn’t let him down. But when the injuries hit, I think a lot of people figured that was too much to overcome.
But the guy did win two scoring titles and played in umpteen All-Star games. He has great skill. He’s a smart player who learned his lessons well over the years. I think he thought if he could get his legs and his body back into game shape, somehow he would still have something to give – and he’s proven that.
When you’re the point guard, as Tracy has become over time and now taken over as the starter, you’re like the quarterback. Quarterbacks are leaders. If they aren’t, their team really isn’t going to be able to play up to its potential. Same thing goes for point guards. Your job is to recognize everybody’s strengths and allow them to operate in a comfort zone. That involves so much timing and decision making. It’s really not that much different than being a quarterback.
It’s very hard to win without a good point guard. When you have a point guard who has been and still is a scorer, you have somebody who understands exactly what his teammates need. For T-Mac to step up and say “my guys,” as I heard him say over the past two weeks about his teammates, is a great sign. That means he enjoys playing with these guys, he’s proud of what they’ve accomplished and is more than willing to make himself a true part of this team.
You’ve got to give Tracy all the credit in the world for accepting the role as the point guard. If he wanted to prove he was worthy of a far bigger contract next year – let’s not forget, he signed with the Pistons for the veteran’s minimum – and maybe the year after, scoring would have been the quickest way to prove that.
But I don’t think it’s about the money with him. I don’t think it’s about anything but being able to play basketball at the highest level and make a significant contribution. When I’ve seen players that have been hurt over the years after they’ve been stars, the ability to come back and play is a gift and they know that and it’s clear Tracy knows that.
I’ll bet you that making more money next year or the year after hasn’t really crossed his mind. I’m sure playing next year and the year after has crossed his mind and he’s proven he can do that. The Pistons are lucky to have him.