Is it all T-Mac's fault?
This summer, it will already be five years since Tracy McGrady was traded to the Houston Rockets from the Orlando Magic for then all-star Steve Francis, among others.
Considering it was the same summer that Shaq finally left L.A, many considered Houston to have the new Shaq & Kobe in T-Mac and Yao. And who could blame them? T-Mac had been the league's top scorer in the previous season and Yao was finally acting on all that potential in his 7''6 frame.
It seemed they were right too. T-Mac's 13 points in 30 seconds against San Antonio electrified the fanbase, and suddenly they didn't miss Steve Francis so much.
The new guy lead the Rockets to their first 50-win season of the century, but lost to Dallas in game 7 of the first round (though T-Mac did make the dunk of the year on Shawn Bradley)
The next year was not as promising, injuries plagued the team and the Rockets missed the postseason altogether. The next year was another game 7 first round loss, this time to the Utah Jazz.
Last season at least heralded in some hope with a 22-game winning streak, much of it without Yao Ming. But it again ended in the first round playoff loss, again to the Jazz.
Six months ago, the team traded for Ron Artest and most agreed that finally the team would be a true contender. But here we are, and it hasn't happened that way.
As of today, the Rockets stand 33-21, earning them the 5th seed. This is fairly respectable, considering the caliber of the teams they are up against, but being the West, they are still only 2 games above the 8th spot.
And with Phoenix now running 7-second offenses once again and Carlos Boozer soon set to return to the Utah Jazz, how long can the Rockets hold off these teams?
The news came yesterday that Tracy McGrady is going to miss the rest of the season. He will be undergoing the dreaded 'Microfracture surgery', the same that kept Amare Stoudamire out for almost an entire season, the same that has effectively ended many players' career before now.
Back when T-Mac played for Orlando, I remember seeing a mix comparing him to Penny Hardaway. The guys do have pretty similar games looking back at it, but are their careers now going to end the same too? Shells of their former selves thanks to this surgery?
The Rockets have most definitely underachieved so far this season, and cannot be seen as a threat to the title at the moment. But the true question is, is this all Tracy McGrady's fault?
Is it T-Mac's fault they haven't made it out of the first round in the last five years?
Is it T-Mac's fault they aren't being the top-tier team they projected to be this year?
And the answer is no. I refuse to believe that a team's loss can ever be just one player's fault. He wasn't playing one-on-five was he? No. Did he choose to get injured? Of course not. Did he put every imaginable effort into rehabbing that he could have? Well I don't know in all honesty, and neither do you, only Tracy can answer that, but in my opinion he has. The Houston Rockets have lost in the first round all those times, not just Tracy McGrady.
But either way, he will not be a part of this season for the team. And I still think that hurts them.
T-Mac's scoring is down to 15.4 ppg, the lowest since 2000, and a 6 point drop-off from last season. And his shooting percentage of 38% is the lowest of his career. But he still averages 5 rebounds and 5 assists a game, so he is not exactly useless. This brings me onto perhaps the only part of Tracy’s game that has improved in the last two years: his playmaking. T-Mac is an amazing passer and understands now how to use his skills to make a play for another man, which has been seen at times this year.
His defense is still poor, despite the fact he used to be an all-NBA defender, but this is mainly due to a lack of effort and injuries rather than being simply a defensive liability.
When healthy, T-Mac still has a lot to offer the Houston Rockets. The problem is, he is not healthy, and has not been all year. We can see how badly his leg has been hurting and it seems that surgery was inevitable. I believe it to be the right choice, and I wish all the best for T-Mac.
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So, do we write off the Rockets now? No, not at all. The Rockets can still transform themselves; they can still make it past the 2nd round. 33-21 is a respectable record, but we know the team is capable of more. They've been rattled by injuries for years, but they need to win no matter what now. They need to make a statement in the second half of the season, in the same way they did last year, and need to follow through on that in the playoffs. They need to beat Cleveland on Feb 26th, they need to beat the Lakers on March 11th, or at least make it competitive, they need to show they can play with the big boys, and they need to squash the lower-tier teams. No more losses to Memphis or Minnesota.
They still have Yao Ming, who, though he won't be donning a cape and becoming a fan favorite for his dunks anytime soon, is one of the top three centers in the league. No argument, he simply is. As well as a great guy. Ron Artest's offense appears to be returning lately; apparently he is getting over those little nagging injuries. Von Wafer is the surprise of the season and is filling the T-Mac void well with his scoring, and the Rockets have a great bench and tons of role players to help the team along. Rafer Alston is underrated as a point guard. Luis Scola is the western conference version of David Lee and is undoubtedly undervalued when people talk about the Rockets.They have young talent in Carl Landry, Aaron Brooks and Luther Head. And they have veterans to keep them grounded and to step up in the playoffs in Brent Barry, Shane Battier and Dikembe Mutombo, who technically is the most seasoned player in the league. And they have a quality coach at the helm in Rick Adelman.
This is a quality team, and I am certain they can make it to the second round as long as they stay above the 7th seed.
Of course, for Tracy McGrady, either way this season is not going to end well for him. Say the same thing happens to the Rockets this year. Say they lose in the first round, again. The fan base will have had enough, so will have management and so will the players. You wouldn't be able to blame management for considering blowing the team up if this happens again. And people will blame this on T-Mac's brittleness and his absence that sealed their doom.
Or, the Rockets shall finally win a playoff series, and will undoubtedly celebrate as if it were the finals. The city of Houston will go wild, and the fans will be happy, perhaps even if they lose in the next round. But then someone will realize...''Wait, we did this without T-Mac. In the five years he's been here, the only time we went on to the second round was when he wasn't on the court.'' What does that tell you?
In either scenario, Tracy McGrady doesn't come out well.
I love T-Mac, I hope he comes back and beats the micro-fracture surgery, but to be honest this is mere details now. The Rockets must win, and they must win now. They have got to stand up and make people take notice, with or without T-Mac.
It is not T-Mac's fault they have not been successful in the playoffs. It never will be. It is never one man's fault. But the Rockets have to either simply forget those first round losses, or use it as fuel.They have a talented team, and it is going to waste. Injuries or no injuries, T-Mac or no T-Mac, the Houston Rockets win or lose as a team, not as individuals.
Probasketball-Fans.com Staff Writer
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