Posted on: December 16, 2009 12:44 pm
CHICAGO -- Tracy McGrady returned to the Houston Rockets Tuesday night, and the fans cheered. T-Mac hit a 3-pointer, his only points during an eight-minute stint, and all was right in Rocket Land again. Right?
No, not so much.
McGrady's comeback is only part of a larger plan to increase his minutes and prove his worth to a team willing to take a chance on his once-breathtaking ability to score and benefit from his $23 million expiring contract at the same time. The Rockets were 14-10 this season without Yao Ming and McGrady, and now the only question is how long they'll have to keep up the charade until McGrady is in good enough condition to help another team.
"The plan is to increase his minutes because they’re gonna trade him," said a person familiar with the Rockets' plans. "I know they are. It doesn’t do them any good to have him playing eight minutes a game on that contract. They’ll find somebody, and there are plenty of teams that are interested, in spite of the contract."
In fact, there will be plenty of teams interested because of that contract. McGrady's $23 million salary comes with two built-in perks: It comes off the books on July 1, 2010, making it a vehicle for clearing cap space for the highly anticipated free-agent signing period, and it's 80 percent insurance-protected. The insurance provision already has kicked in, since McGrady missed 41 consecutive games during his recovery from microfracture knee surgery. The Rockets, or McGrady's new team, would receive 80 percent of his per-game salary for any games he misses the rest of this season.
Any number of teams desperate for short-term scoring punch while they prepare for a 2010 spending spree would be obvious fits; the Bulls and Knicks are at the top of my list. The Heat reportedly also are intrigued by McGrady, and team president Pat Riley is said to be closely monitoring T-Mac's progress.
On Wednesday, I brought all of this information to someone who is personally invested in McGrady's success -- Tim Grover, the renowned trainer at Attack Athletics on the West Side of Chicago. Grover famously trained Michael Jordan and has recently worked with such stars as Kobe Bryant, Gilbert Arenas, and McGrady. Grover wouldn't speculate on the Rockets' motives with regard to T-Mac, but said McGrady's debut Tuesday night was "long overdue."
"I wasn’t down in Houston, and I don’t know what the situation was or why they felt they needed to hold him out this long," Grover said. "Obviously, they had their reasons. They must have found something they wanted to be cautious with. The end result is we're happy to have him back on the floor."
Grover didn't merely help McGrady recover from microfracture surgery, which despite its name is a major procedure requiring months and months of rehab. He reinvented McGrady's body, which had no core strength when he got to Grover's gym.
"We took care of every single issue that he ever had -- the knee, the back, everything that’s ever bothered him in the past," Grover said. "We realigned his body and balanced everything out and made it much stronger and got a lot of his explosiveness back. Now getting back mentally 100 percent is the challenge. And the only way to do that is go out there and compete against NBA players."
At least McGrady is doing that now. Though in a perfect world, he won't be doing it in a Rockets jersey for much longer.
Posted on: November 8, 2009 5:31 pm
Edited on: November 8, 2009 6:21 pm
WASHINGTON – It’s bad enough that the Wizards have lost four straight games, dropping to 2-5 at the start of a season that began with such high expectations. When your coach and best player can’t even agree on what’s wrong, that’s a sure sign of more losses to come.
Yes, it’s early, and the Wizards are without two key players, Antawn Jamison and Mike Miller. And yes, Sunday’s 102-90 loss to the Phoenix Suns came in a game that tipped off at 1 p.m. ET, an anomaly that elicited a smile and guffaw from the suddenly talkative Gilbert Arenas after the game. One thing you don’t want to do in the NBA is roll out of bed and start chasing Steve Nash and the Suns around.
The Wizards are too talented to be scuffling like this for long, and when they get healthy, they’ll be right about where people expected them to be – a team in the mid-40s in wins seeded somewhere in the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference playoffs. But not if they don’t erase some bad habits that simply have no place in an offense constructed by Flip Saunders. And not until everyone understands what the problem is.
The good news is that defensively, the Wizards are no longer a pushover. I wasn’t as impressed with their defensive performance against Phoenix on Sunday as Saunders was, but maybe he was trying to mix in a little positive in his post-game analysis of an effort that produced only 15 assists – five of them by Fabricio Oberto. That was two fewer assists than Nash dished out all by himself.
Saunders was right when he described the Wizards’ offense as “stagnant.” Arenas was right when he said the team is still “trying to find out where we are, what we are.” The common ground ended there.
“We’re just trying to figure out how we can put the ball in the basket, what coach wants from each player,” Arenas said. “That’s what we’re struggling with.”
Once again on Sunday, the ball wasn’t moving, the cuts weren’t crisp enough, and there was little trust in the system that Saunders brought here. The typical offensive set consisted of someone getting the ball on the wing, dribbling toward the basket, and shooting. Yet listen to Arenas’ assessment: He thinks the Wizards aren’t shooting fast enough.
“I say it’s when we have shots open, we’re not taking them,” Arenas said. “We’re trying to do the extra dribble, or get closer to the rim, or pass the ball an extra time when we could just take the first shot. If you look at a team like Phoenix, the reason they don’t have turnovers is they’re launching ‘em. They’re letting it fly so they don’t have a chance to turn the ball over.”
Contrary to Arenas’ assessment, the Wizards’ brass knows the opposite is true. The Wiz need to play more structured offense and pass the ball more, not less. Under previous regimes, bad habits ruled. Saunders’ efforts to eradicate those bad habits have been met with the kind of resistance that results in a team with three 20-point scorers (when healthy) hitting the 100-point plateau only twice in seven games.
“We’ve just got to get better acquainted with one another and believe in one another,” said Caron Butler, who needed 20 field-goal attempts to score 19 points against the Suns. “But it’s early.”
It is, but the Wizards already are exhibiting some tell-tale signs of a team with fragile chemistry. After a deplorable 102-86 loss at Indiana Friday night, Jamison unleashed a profane tirade in the locker room. It was first reported that Jamison overturned a fruit tray in the process, but there were indications on Sunday that the perpetrator might’ve been Saunders, who wouldn’t fess up. Either way, somebody had better nail the postgame spreads to the table if the Wizards don’t get on the same page soon.
Jamison and Miller will be back in another week or so from their respective shoulder injuries, and things will get better. Until then, it doesn’t get any easier Tuesday night in Miami against Dwyane Wade. At least that game tips off after the sun goes down.
Posted on: April 14, 2009 10:39 am
The scenery and roster will be different, but the task for Flip Saunders will be the same: Get his veteran players to like him -- or if not like him, at least play for him.
This is just my opinion, but I think Saunders was the right choice for the Washington Wizards. Unlike Detroit, where he was prematurely canned amid a locker-room revolt, Washington has a stable locker room and a core of veterans eager to reach their potential. With Saunders in charge, the message is clear: The Wizards' future is on the players.
Saunders won't have an erratic Rasheed Wallace to contend with in D.C. But he will have an even more talented, in some ways even more enigmatic star he must rein in. Everything revolves around Gilbert Arenas, and now everything revolves around Saunders' ability to get the most out of him.
It won't be easy, but I think Saunders has a fighting chance.
The Wizards' approach to seeking a permanent replacement for interim coach Ed Tapscott was clear. Though they have young players like JaVale McGee who need nurturing, the Wizards are going nowhere without their veteran core of Arenas, Caron Butler, and Antawn Jamison responding to the new coach. Most of it is on Arenas, because it is always on the superstar in the NBA. The Wizards' front office was adamant that a strong-willed, playoff-tested, experienced coach was needed to coax this roster back to the postseason. Saunders, with his impressive playoff resume, fits that description perfectly.
But what does he do with Gilbert? Is Arenas committed to returning to his previous status as one of the most dangerous and determined scorers in the league? Or has the $111 million the Wizards bestowed on him before last season stolen his edge? By focusing on Saunders, the Wizards sent a powerful message that they believe the former is true. The fact that Arenas agreed to take less than the maximum extension is all the proof the Wizards' brass needed.
According to a person close to Arenas, he is determined not to go down as the guy who got the $100-plus million extension and never won anything. He is on board, and when his health returns -- presumably next season -- Arenas will be more focused on being No. 0 than Agent Zero. For Saunders, this kind of challenge comes with the territory. So does hoping that his superstar will play like one.