T-Mac: 'It Feels Good'

Time off to build strength in legs paying off for McGrady

Tracy McGrady is confident that he'll be ready to go when the season opens on Oct. 27.
Issac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty
Tracy McGrady was eager to test his knee in a setting that most closely approximates a real NBA game – a real NBA preseason game. And the knee passed that test just fine when McGrady played in the preseason opener at Miami last week. But his legs didn’t have a familiar bounce to them, so he went to Arnie Kander and that’s when the decision was made: go back to basics and get McGrady right in time for the start of the regular season.

“I didn’t like how my legs felt,” McGrady said Thursday, the last player headed to the locker room after another intense session with Kander that included dragging weights stacked on a foam platform and tied to a rope attached to him by a belt around the perimeter of the gym. “I felt like I needed to get my legs stronger. I felt like I needed to work on my explosion. I talked to Arnie and we came to the conclusion of working extremely hard for the amount of time we have between that time and up to the 27th” – the date of the regular-season opener at New Jersey.

There has been no setback with the healing of his left knee, which underwent microfracture surgery in February 2009, McGrady says. The idea was to strengthen his legs and improve his conditioning to recapture the explosiveness that has always marked his play. Explosiveness, as McGrady defines it: “It’s first-step quickness, it’s driving to the basket, planting and exploding up, to be able to withstand contact. All sort of things that happen throughout the course of a game.”

After a solid week as Kander’s pet project, McGrady says, “I can notice a difference in my legs, the strength and conditioning. Just the stuff I’ve been doing – working out when you guys are not around – working on the basketball court, my movement and everything is sharp. It feels good.”

McGrady did get through two-a-days, participating fully, and the Pistons are confident that his knee is structurally sound. But he’s played very little basketball the past few seasons and he didn’t play pickup basketball this summer, concentrating on conditioning exercises only to avoid stress on the knee. And summer conditioning only goes so far to prepare players for the trauma to their bodies that training camp imposes. His legs were shot, plain and simple, after a week of full-court sprinting, stopping, starting, jumping and jostling.

“It’s not (frustrating), because I know I’m going to be in uniform on the 27th,” he said. “This was something that was a little minor bump that I have to go through in terms of stepping back and using the time I have to strengthen. We’re pretty sure we can condition my legs to get stronger and be ready to go in uniform on the 27th. That’s where my mind has always been. I feel good – I can play right now. But I’m looking at the bigger picture.”

McGrady has put his trust in Kander and fought his own instincts to keep pushing, he said.

“It’s good to have somebody bright and knows how the body works,” he said. “He knows when to cut back and when to speed things up. With me, I’m always wanting to drive myself through the wall and it’s good to have Arnie’s voice to stop me in my tracks and tell me to take it easy. I’m like full throttle when I want to try to achieve something. That’s what I really set my mind to. So it’s good to have him to kind of cut me back and look at the bigger picture.”

McGrady thinks it’s possible to be ready for the regular season without participating in the remaining four preseason games, but being ready to play the opener is different than saying he’ll be as good as he’s going to get. He’s going to be rusty, but he’d be rusty, anyway, he said.

“It would be a rusty factor even if I was to play eight preseason games because I haven’t played in so long,” he said. “I don’t even consider me playing in New York last year, because I still wasn’t healthy. I didn’t like how I was feeling. I wasn’t really in great condition. I still think through the regular season, it was going to take me some time to get where I needed to be.”

John Kuester wouldn’t say whether he’d be comfortable throwing McGrady into the mix on opening night without having seen any more of him in game conditions than the eight minutes he played on Oct. 5.

“Arnie will talk about Tracy’s status down the road,” he said. “Right now, he’s just working to get right. We’ll make a judgment as time goes on.”

  • Chris Wilcox, who hasn’t played at all in preseason after straining a hamstring in the Oct. 2 open practice, has been cleared to play over the weekend when the Pistons play Minnesota on Friday night in Syracuse, N.Y., and Charlotte in Columbia, S.C., on Saturday night. Kuester said it’s probable that a veteran or two would sit out one half of the weekend back-to-back set.