Most analysts and writers believe that McGrady does, in fact, belong in the Hall of Fame, but the knock on the former superstar has always been about his inability to carry a team over the top. Winning in the league has a way of changing or altering the reputation of a player – just ask LeBron James – and McGrady simply did not win enough.
The problem with that logic is that circumstances matter, too, and McGrady’s career was simply filled with unlucky ones. Bill Simmons of Grantland provided great details of just how unfortunate the guard’s career really was and why he could only do so much, surrounded by such little talent:
We judge these guys by playoff wins first and everything else second. Most of the time, it’s totally fair. In T-Mac’s case, it’s not totally fair. Kobe had Shaq and Phil, and later Gasol and Odom, with a slew of Horrys and Fishers and Rices mixed in. T-Mac’s best teammates were Yao Ming, Grant Hill (played 46 games in four years with McGrady), Mike Miller, a washed-up Dikembe Mutombo, a really washed-up Patrick Ewing, and a really, really, really washed-up Shawn Kemp.
Remember when we kinda sorta felt bad for Kobe after he drove Shaq out of Los Angeles, when the Black Mamba was saddled with the Kwame Browns and Smush Parkers for a couple of years before Pau Gasol miraculously arrived? Here’s a complete list of every teammate who started a playoff game with Tracy McGrady during his aforementioned 2001-08 peak …
Darrell Armstrong (three years), Bo Outlaw, Andrew DeClercq (two years), Mike Miller (two years), Pat Garrity (two years), Horace Grant (36 at the time), Monty Williams, Jacque Vaughn, Gordan Giricek, Drew Gooden, Yao Ming (two years), David Wesley, Bob Sura, Ryan Bowen, Scott Padgett, Shane Battier (two years), Rafer Alston (two years), Chuck Hayes, Luis Scola, Dikembe Mutombo (somewhere between age 40 and 52 at the time), and Bobby Jackson.
The article also provided some insight from McGrady’s former coaches – Jeff Van Gundy and Doc Rivers – who had a great understanding of what the guard was truly about. Here are some thoughts from Van Gundy:
Van Gundy wishes people didn’t overrate playoff success when they evaluated players, pointing out that Kevin Garnett was the exact same player in 2007 (32 wins) and 2008 (82 wins, including playoffs). He believes the line between success and failure is much thinner, and much more random, than anyone wants to admit. The ultimate example: Game 6 of the 2013 Finals, obviously. But in 2007, Van Gundy’s Rockets squandered a Game 7 at home, blowing a late lead to a fairly young Jazz team.7 Like always, everyone blamed McGrady for not coming through, even though he scored 29 points and added 13 assists. Had Houston prevailed, it would have played the no. 8 seed Warriors in Round 2, then San Antonio in the Western finals. Let’s say it made the conference finals and lost in six. Would you feel differently about T-Mac’s career then?
You would … right?
“Easy to coach,” Van Gundy gushes about McGrady. “Smart as hell. Not the greatest practice player of course. He understood he had to give X amount of level in practice to avoid confrontation with the coach, and that’s what he did. But he was totally unselfish in the way he played the game. TOTALLY unselfish. I was there every night. Was I looking forward to coaching him in the second game of a back-to-back against a bad team? No, not gonna happen. But if you put him against a great team? He always showed up. Look at his playoff numbers versus his regular-season numbers. How many guys had better playoff numbers? Seriously, how many?”
And here are some notable thoughts from Rivers:
“He was so much better than his numbers in a crazy way,” Doc says. “I know that sounds weird, but it’s true. Tracy had to score for us — if Tracy didn’t have to be a scorer, he would have been even better. I really believe that. He was so unselfish, that was the best thing about him. He was good at everything … he was a great playmaker, he could really pass. If he could have had a chance to play with another great player, he would have been even better.”
Basketball is a team game. McGrady was an incredible individual, but history has proven time after time that one player can never go too far on his own, be it Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant or any other superstar you can think of. Van Gundy mentioned something quite notable in this regard when he brought up Kevin Garnett’s overall record in 2007 (32 total wins with the Minnesota Timberwolves) and 2008 (82 total wins with the Boston Celtics). Garnett didn’t transform into a better player from one season to the next. He simply found himself in a much, much better situation, which allowed him to win, and subsequently, alter his previous reputation of being an amazing talent who couldn’t win. Clearly, reputation matters in the league no matter how much of the details it tends to leave out.
This is not to completely clear McGrady of the fact that he couldn’t move past the first round even when circumstances were better in some years (never assume a series is over until it’s really over), but mostly, he was just stuck in many unlucky situations.
McGrady had the chance to read Simmons’ exceptional article and had this to say:
— Tracy McGrady (@Real_T_Mac) August 31, 2013
In fact, he found it so good that he had to post the article again just four minutes later:
— Tracy McGrady (@Real_T_Mac) August 31, 2013
Really, if you were a fan of McGrady growing up, the article is an absolute must-read.
James Park is the chief blogger of Sheridan Hoops. You can find him on twitter @SheridanBlog.