Trading Places

McGrady might get another shot with Pistons, Kuester hints

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Pistons fans convinced they’d seen the last of Rip Hamilton should tread carefully with the assumption that Tracy McGrady is destined to ride out the season’s final 18 games in obscurity.

“It will not surprise me if he gets another opportunity pretty soon,” John Kuester said after Monday’s practice to a round of questions about why McGrady hasn’t played since scoring 16 points and dishing 12 assists in a Feb. 23 loss at Indiana.

McGrady was one of seven players who either didn’t attend or arrived late for the morning shootaround at Philadelphia two days later. McGrady had informed team officials prior to shootaround that he was not feeling well, citing a headache, but when he didn’t play that night against the 76ers – the Pistons played only the six players who showed up on time for shootaround – he told reporters afterward that he was available.

“I want to play,” he said Monday. “At the end of the day, I’m a competitor and I want to play and I feel I can help us win games. But it is what it is. I’m not going to lose any sleep. Just going to continue to work and whatever happens these remaining 18 games, happens.”

Kuester maintained that there was no non-basketball underlying reason for McGrady’s inactivity, just as he did when Rip Hamilton didn’t play in 12 straight games starting in mid-January.

“Tracy McGrady has helped himself this year,” Kuester said. “He’s worked hard and he’s going to be fine, but right now we are just overloaded at the guard position. We are trying our best to sort this situation out.”

Kuester has followed the code of NBA coaches with a stiff upper lip as he’s adjusted to injuries and extraneous forces in his two years, but he let his guard down ever so slightly on Monday.

“You go from one season last year, where you had so many injuries and needed bodies,” he said, “to all of a sudden we have too many bodies.”

It would be amusingly ironic, if it didn’t cut so close to the bone, to recall that maybe the best stretch of basketball the Pistons have played on Kuester’s watch came fairly early in his first season when a team playing without some or all of Hamilton, Ben Gordon, Tayshaun Prince and Will Bynum at various points won five straight games.

The Pistons treaded water waiting for the injured players to return, but when those returns coincided in late December 2009 the expected playoff push disintegrated into a losing skid that effectively ended their shot at the postseason. This year, with the added depth McGrady provided, the trend continued and “the situation,” as Kuester called it, has proven elusive in the sorting-out process.

Since McGrady has come out of the starting lineup, Rodney Stuckey, who moved to shooting guard when McGrady took over the point in mid-January, has been reinstalled at point guard. And Stuckey has averaged 20.8 points and eight assists in the four games since making the move.

“He’s played extremely well,” Kuester said. “He’s done a nice job of running the team. We just want him to continue to play hard. … Play hard every time you step on the court. He’s got great strength. He’s got great speed.”

McGrady said, “I think I’ve got some sort of idea” why he suddenly went from starter to non-participant but wouldn’t expand, though he indicated he didn’t believe it had anything to do with the Philadelphia shootaround incident.

Of the others who didn’t show up and subsequently didn’t play in that night’s game, Stuckey, Austin Daye and Chris Wilcox all started the following night; Tayshaun Prince returned to the starting lineup on Sunday, after recovering from the S-I joint soreness that had plagued him since the Feb. 23 Indiana game; Hamilton has since returned to the rotation as Ben Gordon’s backup at shooting guard, where the two are virtually splitting time; and Ben Wallace rejoined the Pistons on Monday after being away from the team following the death of a brother.

“I hope not,” McGrady said when asked about a possible connection to the shootaround no-show. “I hope I’m not singled out like that. I beg that it’s not that, because that wouldn’t be right at all.”

With McGrady’s one-year contract up at season’s end, he admitted his current plight could factor into a decision on whether to return.

“Of course,” he said. “I left my family back in Houston and came here to dedicate myself to get back healthy and help this team win and this is going on? Of course I’m going to think about it. I’ve already thought about it. I want to play. Very frustrating for me right now. I’m not going to lose my sanity, though. I’m going to stay professional, work hard and look forward to the off-season.”

  • Wallace said he’s not ready to jump back in with both feet after being away from the team for nine days to be with his family as their buried his older brother, the Rev. James McBride, 58, who died Feb. 26 of cancer.

    “I’m going to take it real slow,” he said. “I’ve been off for a week and some change. I know I’m not ready to go out there and compete for 40 minutes at this level.”

    Wallace and McBride had the same mother and Wallace looked up to McBride, 22 years his senior, as more than an older brother.

    “That was my father figure,” he said. “My brother, my friend, my spiritual adviser, my basketball counselor. He was just a guy that put a basketball in my hands. It’s tough for me to go bury him and then come back and think about basketball knowing he was the one who got me started.

    “I’ll always be emotionally affected by what went on this last month or so. That ain’t nothing I expect to get over anytime soon.”