NBA PM: Could McGrady Wash Out of the NBA?
Once upon a time, Tracy McGrady was considered to be one of the best players in the NBA. The seven-time All-Star and two-time scoring champion seemed destined to be mentioned in the same breath as Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins and Kobe Bryant, some of the most electrifying scorers in the history of the NBA, but he never quite lived up to that billing.
Instead, injuries and a lack of postseason success have defined McGrady’s career, and now at 33 years old he seems to have aged at a faster pace than his peers. Even as we talk about how Steve Nash, Jason Kidd and Grant Hill still have plenty left in the tank despite pushing 40, McGrady looks more like a former NBA player.
Part of the problem, of course, is that unlike some of the all-time greats McGrady didn’t stay in elite shape during the NBA offseason. Like many players, he would count on being able to play himself into shape in training camp rather than staying ready during the summer, and while he was good enough to survive that way for a while, it did catch up with him fairly quickly. He has never played in all 82 games of an NBA season, and he’s been on a steady downhill slide for most of the last seven years.
What happened to that premier scoring threat who looked like a championship-caliber addition to Houston’s lineup alongside Yao Ming?
It doesn’t help that McGrady has failed to become the strong veteran voice in the locker room even as his body has failed him. He led a player revolt against Detroit Pistons head coach John Kuester in 2010-11 and then was far from a positive influence in Atlanta last season. Given how far his game has fallen off – he hasn’t averaged double figures since 2008-09 in Houston – teams are looking at him as a veteran presence more than a scoring threat, and he isn’t inspiring confidence in teams looking for a veteran voice.
McGrady is still looking for a job, and has interviewed with the Charlotte Bobcats already this offseason. Reports indicate that he is also being considered by the San Antonio Spurs and the New York Knicks, though it’s questionable whether either team would give him the guaranteed money he’s looking for. It’s certainly hard to imagine Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich tolerating McGrady’s lackadaisical approach to the game, and any attempt to undermine Pop would likely earn McGrady a one-way ticket out of the league.
That may already be a reality for McGrady, as Yahoo! Sports is saying he could consider playing in China, where his notoriety as a former teammate of Yao Ming’s might garner him a lucrative deal.
It’s a sad testament to a player who could have been among the all-time greats based on raw ability. If McGrady had pushed himself and found the determination that, say, Kobe Byrant possesses, there’s little question that he could have been a champion and a Hall of Fame player. Instead, at 33 years old he looks like he might wash out of the league altogether, leaving us to wonder what might have been.
O.J. Mayo: Mavericks Can Take the Lakers
It wasn’t so long ago that O.J. Mayo was one of the hottest names in the rumor mill. The Indiana Pacers tried to get him several times, the Minnesota Timberwolves were among the other interested teams, and yet Mayo found himself looking for a home in free agency this summer. The Dallas Mavericks count themselves lucky to have added Mayo for this 2012-13 NBA season, and Mayo is confident that the new-look Mavericks can go far, even further, perhaps, than the super-hyped Los Angeles Lakers.
Thabeet: OKC’s X Factor?
There are a number of people around the NBA who will tell you that the Oklahoma City Thunder have not done enough this offseason to keep up with their competition for the 2012-13 NBA crown. The Miami HEAT added new depth with veterans like Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, the Boston Celtics beefed up their backcourt with Courtney Lee and Jason Terry and the Los Angeles Lakers, of course, added two All-Stars in Steve Nash and Dwight Howard.
Meanwhile, the Thunder didn’t do much beyond drafting intriguing big man Perry Jones in the first round of the draft and signing free agent center Hasheem Thabeet in free agency.
Not nearly enough to maintain their status as the Western Conference’s team to beat, right?
Then again, what if Scott Brooks and his coaching staff can finally make a breakthrough with Thabeet?
There’s no question that Thabeet can play the game of basketball. After all, we’re talking about one of college basketball’s most dominant centers from 2008-09. He averaged a respectable 13.6 points to go with his 10.8 rebounds as a junior, but it was primarily the 152 shots he blocked in his third year at UCONN that earned him the attention of the Memphis Grizzlies, who used the second overall pick of the 2009 NBA Draft to acquire him. Coming off of a season in which he was named both the Big East Player of the Year and the Big East Defensive Player of the Year, Thabeet was sure to be the next big thing in the NBA.
Only he wasn’t. He appeared in 68 games for the Grizzlies as a rookie, starting 13 times, and managed just 3.1 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per contest. As disappointing as that was, his numbers were even worse the following year, and the Grizzlies dealt him to Houston before the NBA trade deadline, acquiring Shane Battier in the process.
Houston’s then-coach Rick Adelman saw nothing in Thabeet that made him want to play him, so he appeared in just two games for the rest of the season and didn’t score a basket. Rockets management hoped that incoming head coach Kevin McHale could reach Thabeet the following season, but even he could only coax 1.2 points and 1.4 rebounds out of the Tanzania product. He appeared in just five games for Houston last season before the Rockets sent him to Portland, where the Blazers gave him more minutes and a real shot to be a rotation player, but were so disappointed in what they saw that they didn’t so much as make him an offer during free agency.
The frustrating thing for the Grizzlies and the Rockets was that they saw evidence that Thabeet could play during a couple of stints in the D-League. He averaged 13.8 points, 11.2 rebounds and 3.2 blocks in six games in 2009-10, and 10.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in six games in 2010-11. Thabeet was great in college and in the D-League, but roll the ball out on an NBA floor and he just seemed to forget how to play the game.
That could have been it for Thabeet, just another lottery pick who didn’t turn out, quickly swept under the mat of history and time. But then Sam Presti and the Oklahoma City Thunder stepped in to give Thabeet one more chance.
On the one hand, it’s a head-scratcher. Why bother, if you’re the defending Western Conference champs? You don’t have playing time to waste trying to develop a player who has fallen flat on lesser teams. On the other hand, this is what the Thunder do. They develop talent.
There’s no question that Thabeet has talent, the only question is whether or not someone can draw it out and maximize it. It’s a tall order, to be sure, much taller than Thabeet’s 7’3″ frame. Developing players like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka was more about channeling energy than learning to motivate. They all had plenty of motivation. But what about Thabeet, who has an established reputation for simply not wanting to put in the work required to be an elite NBA player?
“Definitely this is a great opportunity for me,” Thabeet told The Oklahoman recently. “Every situation in the past doesn’t really matter. The present is what I’ve got to face. I’ve got to deal with what I can control, come in and work hard and just be a part of the team. … It’s another situation, so I’ve got to come in with a different mentality and be ready to work hard.”
If he can do that, the Thunder’s reputation for being a team that develops their way to a championship just might reach legendary proportions.
If he can’t, you can bet OKC will be Thabeet’s last NBA stop.
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