Can McGrady Make A Difference For Atlanta?
The Atlanta Hawks have made no secret over the past two seasons of trying to lure veteran talent to the franchise to support their core trio of Al Horford, Joe Johnson and Josh Smith.
Last year, the Hawks openly courted future Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal during free agency before refusing to pay the $10 million price tag over two seasons requested by the recently retired center.
This year, the Hawks may have found the veteran presence they were previously seeking.
According to an ESPN report, former two-time NBA scoring champion Tracy McGrady has agreed to a one-year deal to join the Atlanta Hawks for the 2012 campaign.
McGrady was also reportedly being pursued by the Chicago Bulls.
Jamal Crawford, the 2010 Sixth Man of the Year, is an unrestricted free agent and expected to sign elsewhere. The reported securing of McGrady likely confirms the Hawks are gearing up to move once that happens.
Over the past two seasons Crawford averaged 16.1 points for the Hawks off the bench in a pivotal reserve slot, but saw his role fluctuate within the team’s framework in 2011 under head coach Larry Drew who favored more ball movement and less isolation play.
With the threat of losing Crawford looming on the forefront since failing to issue him an extension last season, it was a no-brainer the Hawks would be looking to bring in someone capable of consistently scoring in a reserve role.
And if there’s one thing McGrady has been able to do over the course of 15 seasons in the league it’s been scoring – over 18,000 points worth. The bench depth need was further magnified after losing guard Kirk Hinrich until February to a shoulder injury.
But how much does McGrady have left on those 32-year-old surgically repaired knees?
With the Pistons last season McGrady averaged 8 points per contest on 44 percent shooting from the floor, but most importantly played in 72 games – his highest since the 2007 season.
The Hawks wouldn’t be counting on McGrady to replace Crawford’s high volume scoring tit-for-tat with two-time All-Star center Al Horford expected to be granted a much more prominent offensive role in 2012.
One thing to keep an eye on if the reports circulating are truly accurate is the battle for the small forward position with Marvin Williams. Remember this, after being removed from the starting lineup last season Williams openly voiced his frustrations about possibly accepting a bench role on the team.
On the other hand, McGrady willingly accepted a reduced role in Detroit as he attempted to get his game legs back under him after injury plagued seasons in 2009 and 2010.
But can McGrady, who has stated he still desires to be a full-time starter in the past, truly adapt to playing behind Marvin Williams at small forward? Its one thing to play behind guys like Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince (who own championship rings), but a completely different story to take a lesser role behind someone without the same resume.
There’s also the question of whether Drew will utilize Josh Smith more at small forward this season which would allow Horford to slide to his natural power forward position. Smith has reportedly trimmed down considerably since the end of last season, through an intense cardio program making a small forward run more viable.
In that case, McGrady would likely serve as the primary back up to Johnson at shooting guard although his lateral quickness has diminished since the injuries.
The Hawks have roughly $64 million in guaranteed salaries committed to seven players, which severely limits the club’s ability to make a huge splash in free agency. The franchise is notorious for staying out of luxury tax territory so expect plenty of one-year contracts by the team during free agency to keep them south of it.
McGrady has reportedly agreed to take the league minimum, which makes the deal one of those proverbial low risk, high reward types.
In the rapidly improving Eastern Conference, losing Crawford’s production off the bench may be a blow that McGrady himself cannot replace.
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