X Factor

John Long, once McGrady's teammate, lauds bargain signing

Former Pistons guard John Long thinks Tracy McGrady, his teammate with the Raptors in 1997, still has plenty to offer.
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It speaks to both John Long’s amazing longevity and Tracy McGrady’s boundless talent that their careers overlapped long enough for them to be briefly teammates. It also wasn’t mere happenstance. When Isiah Thomas used the No. 9 pick in the 1997 draft on the lanky McGrady, who’d burst onto the national college recruiting scene only the summer before as a late bloomer out of central Florida, he wanted to make sure he had some trustworthy veterans around to shepherd McGrady’s early NBA career.

So that’s how the 18-year-old McGrady and the 41-year-old Long were teammates for a while in Toronto, Long well remembering his first impressions of McGrady.

“I knew he had all the talent in the world,” Long recalls 13 years later with McGrady now joining his hometown Pistons, for whom he played parts of 10 seasons in three stints and was a member of the 1988-89 NBA champions. “We went to Barbados during the summer for a mini-training camp and I saw the potential there immediately. I saw that this kid could be unbelievable if he had somebody to work with him and guide him. I was right about the talent level.”

Even though Long retired after breaking his jaw in the season’s first month, the Raptors kept him around for McGrady’s first few seasons for his leadership and steady hand. He’s kept tabs on McGrady ever since, always making a point to look him up when Toronto, Orlando, Houston or New York came to The Palace. As he’s watched McGrady battle a series of injuries ranging from nagging to major issues with his back and knee, he always thought coming to the Pistons to work with Arnie Kander would be best for McGrady.

“It’s just a matter of him getting with the right people to get back healthy, and you know Arnie – I think the world of him,” Long said. “He’s one of the best in the business as far as getting guys prepared and ready to play.”

When McGrady showed up at the team’s practice facility on Monday to work with Kander a few hours before his introductory press conference, Long was there to greet him.

“I told him I was happy he was here, that I was happy for him, and the other thing I said to him, in front of Arnie, is that, ‘This is the best guy you can be with to get you healthy. He’s going to do everything in his power to get you back to where you can perform up to your capabilities. Now all you have to do is your part.’ He’s in very good hands with Arnie.”

Since Long played until he was 41, he scoffs at the notion that McGrady’s best days are already behind him at 31.

“There’s no way in the world at 31 years old in this league that you’re washed up,” he said.

He also dismisses concerns that McGrady’s addition further crowds positions already well-stocked at small forward and shooting guard.

“You’re competing at all positions,” he said. “That’s not going to do anything but make everybody much better because you’ve got to go at one another. There’s nowhere to hide – that’s the way I look at it.

“It’s like when I played on the championship team. We played so competitively in practice, it was unbelievable. We were so ready when it came to game situations. We were so far ahead of everybody else because we worked so hard and went at one another in practice. It made us so much better. This is probably going to be the first year where you have all positions full, where guys really have to go at one another and show they belong and deserve minutes. It’s going to be a very interesting training camp. I’m looking forward to it.”

Long likes the fact that the Pistons who endured last season’s 27-win results in the face of injury-induced adversity have responded with a determined summer, just as he senses in McGrady a strong desire to prove doubters wrong.

“That’s a good thing,” he said. “It’s a positive thing when those guys say, ‘We know we stunk up the place and that wasn’t the true people you saw.’ Come back and redeem yourself. Hopefully, this year playing with a chip on your shoulder is going to make you much better, make you a better team and make you much more competitive in practice. Those guys are going to go at one another.

“When you start training camp, from day one, every opportunity is open and you’ve got to take advantage of it. That’s what I always liked about Chuck Daly. He said in order to earn minutes, you’ve got to earn them in practice. Show everybody in practice and in training camp that you’re mentally focused and ready to go. That’s the time to do it. That’s when you’ve really got to perform up to your ability. That’s going to be a challenge – but a good challenge.”

And with Kander working his magic and McGrady burning to restore his place in the game, Long sees the Pistons coming out of the summer looking shrewd for snagging a premier scorer for a song.

“I’m glad Joe (Dumars) took a chance on bringing him here because I think this can really work out to our benefit,” he said. “Those scoring droughts won’t happen anymore. Getting him healthy, he can be the X factor on this team.”