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Friday December 12, 2008 3:59 PM

Tracy McGrady's Road To Recovery


Rockets' insider provides the inside scoop on T-Mac's rehab

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com Staff Writer

Houston - Few subjects have been discussed and dissected over the last few weeks quite like the injury status of Tracy McGrady. Everyone has an opinion, everyone’s got a solution and, most of all, everyone wants to know when he’ll return – and how he’ll look when he does.

Yet for all the rampant speculation, there are very few people who actually know what T-Mac has been up to of late and how his rehab is progressing. So with that in mind, Rockets.com decided to get the lowdown from someone who’s been involved with McGrady’s recovery from the very beginning. David Macha is Houston’s strength and conditioning coach, and he’s worked closely with Tracy to help ensure the Rockets’ superstar returns to his All-Star form. During the following conversation, Macha shares his own personal insight and observations gleaned from T-Mac’s rehab work, and discusses the prospect of McGrady’s imminent return (he’s a gametime decision for tonight’s contest against Golden State).

JCF: Let's begin by discussing the events which led to Tracy needing this break. What happened?

DM: After the surgery, Tracy came back with discomfort and, to his credit, he still wanted to help the team. But it just got to the point where the discomfort was lending itself to potential breakdowns. So there’s a lot more to it than just, ‘My knee hurts.’ You have to make sure everything is working together and that everything is back on track.

His effort coming back from this and working through it has been extraordinary. He’s been busting his tail. The intensity he’s been displaying is fantastic. It’s very encouraging.

JCF: So how can you tell when he’s actually ready to come back?

DM: We have measures that we do in the offseason - from the markers we have, he’s physically pretty dang close to where he needs to be.

Now anytime somebody is coming back from injury, there’s going to be that apprehension and hesitation where, until they get subjected to that same situation on the floor that caused that discomfort or injury before, he won’t know how good he really is. But the goal of rehab is to minimize his likelihood of being in a position which will cause injury.

So the strength is there; he’s seen it, he’s felt it, he’s able to tell a huge difference from where he was to where he is now. And it doesn’t hurt to be confident knowing that he did everything, he busted his tail, his strength is great and he’s got a chance.

JCF: He’s been out about two weeks, is that enough time to really recalibrate the body and get it stronger to the point of being ready to return?

DM: You have to realize, Tracy has been working toward this for six-to-eight weeks now. So this has been something that’s been incrementally getting better…

JCF: How come it seemed to be getting worse then?

DM: I think because the volume of his minutes were increasing and, to some extent, his conditioning for basketball – I think it’s safe to say – wasn’t where it needed to be, or wasn’t where he could be confident; he was still getting fatigued on the floor. And I’m sure you’ve heard the saying: “Fatigue will make cowards of us all.”

So have we made marked strength gains in two weeks? No, you can’t. But in six-to-eight weeks you’re going to see some pretty good results. When we opened the season, I think it was evident that his confidence needed to come up, and that’s been something we’ve been working on ever since. It’s certainly not something that can be done in just two weeks.

All these things take time – time is a great healer – and it’s important to show the athlete that ‘You can do this. You see how this is the movement that was bothering you before and if we just adjust your positioning a little bit, you can do it where it doesn’t hurt at all.’

JCF: So do you think he’s closer to having that peace of mind?

DM: I think so. I mean, we’ll never know for sure until you see how he responds to playing in the fourth quarter on the tail end of a back-to-back. Right now, I can tell you that his confidence level has dramatically increased from where it was.

JCF: Do you worry that if he comes back this weekend it might be too early and a setback could occur?

DM: You can’t really think that way because by that logic he should stay out another three-to-four weeks just to make sure. But do we really have the luxury of that? Probably not. MRIs can show one thing, doctors can interpret the MRIs as showing another thing, I can interpret how Tracy is moving to mean yet another, but only Tracy knows how he feels and whether he can play without thinking about the knee. Can he be Tracy McGrady? And it’s up to him to tell us, ‘You know what, I feel pretty good. I think I can go tonight.’ Or, ‘You know what, I think I need to rest.’

We don’t need him to be a hero. We need him in May and June more than right now, obviously. But I learned a long time ago that you can’t predict how a player is going to feel following surgery.

Got a question for Rockets.com? Send it to Jason Friedman.