When Joe Dumars is considering free-agent or trade acquisitions and has any concerns about physical durability, Arnie Kander is his go-to guy. It usually doesn’t take long for Joe D to get an informed opinion, because the Pistons’ universally admired strength and conditioning coach usually gives himself a head start.
“I look at guys all the time (on tape),” Kander said. “You never know. Any time I hear a rumor, I get the tapes out and start watching. Because you never know what the possibility is.”
So Kander had a pretty good working knowledge of Tracy McGrady when his agent, Arn Tellem, called Joe D less than two weeks ago to say McGrady would like to join the Pistons. Actually, Kander’s had a working catalog on McGrady for a long time.
“Charlie Ward knew him and I knew Charlie really well,” Kander said. “Small world, the NBA. Everybody knows everybody. A couple of injuries he’s had in the past, he asked my advice and we just talked. Every time you see someone who’s gifted at what he does, you hate for injuries to rob someone’s career.”
And Kander believes McGrady has a very good chance to revive his career with the Pistons. Limited to 131 games in the last three years and coming off of microfracture knee surgery in February 2009 that cut huge chunks out of his last two seasons, McGrady said Monday when he met reporters that he’s in shape and his knee is markedly improved since his 2009-10 season ended with 24 games in a Knicks uniform.
Kander evoked two former Pistons in drawing parallels to McGrady – Grant Hill for the way he’s revived his career after dealing with mid-career injuries and Rasheed Wallace for the working relationship they enjoyed in the face of Wallace’s reputation for being difficult.
“He’s 31,” Kander said. “Thirty-one is young and he doesn’t have the mileage on his body. That’s a good thing. Look at Grant. He’s back playing well again. He had very low mileage. When you think about it – never was long in the playoffs – it’s very similar to Tracy. I’d love to see him have a successful career. I’d love to work with him.
“The commitment to work for me is always the essential thing. I’ve had conversations with him and I know he’s a great guy. Rasheed Wallace – everyone always said he was tough. No. For me, Rasheed Wallace was as good as it gets in terms of, ‘Arnie, tell me what I need to do.’ Followed everything exactly. The oh-four playoffs, he had a foot sprain – we called it plantar fasciitis, but it was a sprained foot. That’s a tough injury. Every day, we’re in the pool soaking. Never missed a beat, played through it, got better as the playoffs went along and by the last two series he was great. Only because he committed to doing what he had to do. From my standpoint, that guy was solid as a rock for what I asked him to do every single day.”
He has ideas on McGrady, even before starting to work with him Monday, because he’d watched tapes of McGrady spread out over several seasons before Dumars agreed to sign McGrady last week.
“I’ve done a lot of videotape on him,” he said. “Broke down a lot of movement over the last eight years. I do that with a lot of guys, just to look and see. If I do talk to somebody, I want a little knowledge on them beyond just, oh, yeah, you scored 28 points a game. That doesn’t mean anything to me.”
What does? Kander looks for subtleties in movement that would escape all but the best-trained eye.
“This is how you move,” Kander said as he began to detail what he might pick up on an individual player from studying tape. “You short angled the right side. The left side looks really good. When you stop, you tip. On this side, you go straight up. Something’s going on. Let’s check out your feet.”
With McGrady specifically, Kander paid special attention to his time with the Knicks – the most recent evidence of his status.
“I watched him very closely,” he said. “There were games he played extremely well. There were some I said, hmmm, he’s not moving so well anymore. But he’s a bright guy, an intelligent guy who works extremely hard. From all the people I’ve spoken to, he’s not someone who cuts corners.
“He’s just been ravaged by injuries. This is one of the greatest players in the game. If he can get back some of that, holy cow. If he can get back all of it, my gosh. That’s what I get excited about. If he can get back to that, what a blessing.”
McGrady said his back has been fine for several years now – he had a disc injury similar to the one that caused Tayshaun Prince to miss the first 26 games of his NBA career last season. It was the knee, McGrady said, that was the only thing slowing him down last year.
“He had a disc, like Tay, and the last three months of the season, Tay was golden. To me, I don’t think (McGrady’s microfracture surgery) was the big issue. I think there are small things. We always look for small things. Because he canb still do so many things occasionally, so why can’t he do them for long durations? What’s going on?”
That’s the key for Kander and Dumars: McGrady showed in flashes upon returning last season that he could still be a dominant player. If they didn’t see it at all, they’d be inclined to believe McGrady’s best days are behind him. But if he can flash dominance, then the possibility that he can be consistently dominant remains.
For a one-year commitment at the veteran’s minimum, that was a risk the Pistons couldn’t afford not to take.