Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pistons' "Convenient" Marriage with McGrady Should Be Extended

Tracy McGrady has no world championship rings. He doesn't have any conference championship rings. He doesn't even have any first round champion rings.

He doesn't have any anecdotes about what it was like to go up against Kobe Bryant or Allen Iverson or LeBron James when the whole enchilada was on the line. He can't gather the kids around the campfire and tell them how the spotlight shines so much brighter when the court has "NBA Finals" painted on it.

But McGrady, the 31-year-old, sometimes gimpy point guard for the Pistons, can tell the youngens what it's like to stare the end of your career in the face, and to seriously ponder a life without basketball.

He can tell them what it feels like when most of the teams in the league looked the other way when his name was mentioned following the microfracture surgery on his knee.

McGrady is the one-time NBA superstar who became the Ernie Banks of his time and his sport---the poster child for bad timing, forever playing on teams, even good ones, that couldn't survive past the first round of the playoffs.

So he owns no rings, like Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, and Ben Wallace do. Heck, even his coach, the rumpled John Kuester, possesses a World Championship ring from his days as Larry Brown's assistant with the Pistons in 2004.

But McGrady has that whole career-was-nearly-over thing that none of the aforementioned players can relate to.

If the Pistons part ways with Hamilton, as they appear on the verge of doing, and if they let Tayshaun Prince vanish into free agency, as has been widely speculated, then the team suddenly becomes woefully deficient in NBA playing experience.

Don't forget that Wallace is likely to retire after next season, the last on his contract.

All this means that the Pistons would do well to hang on to McGrady beyond the expiration of his one-year contract, signed last August.

All bona fide NBA teams---and coaches---need players around like McGrady, who entered the league as an 18-year-old in 1997 with Toronto, and who now has nearly 18,000 points accumulated over 855 games, a 20.8 per game average for 14 years.

In fact, McGrady is hitting on nearly 48 percent of his shots this season for the Pistons, and he hasn't been this deadeye at shooting the basketball ever in his illustrious career. His career shooting percentage is 43.6.

Granted, the man they call T-Mac hasn't been hoisting nearly as many shots at the basket as he has in years past, but 48 percent is still 48 percent, albeit in a relatively small sampling---for him.

McGrady, in the past couple of weeks, has assumed the role of starting point guard and has basically been showing younger players Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum how it's done. McGrady is distributing the ball the way a quality point guard should. And he's hitting shots when called upon.

All that, and he's providing sorely needed leadership for a team that has had a vacuum in that area ever since Chauncey Billups was traded.

Kuester has been outspoken and effusive in his praise for how McGrady has mentored the Pistons' younger players, while at the same time showing an exemplary attitude in a season where "exemplary" has been an infrequently used adjective, to say the least.

McGrady might be a Hall of Famer when all is said and done, except not all has been said, and it doesn't look like all has been done---not even close.

The Pistons signed McGrady last August and it was the quintessential marriage of convenience. McGrady needed the Pistons so he could show the NBA that he still had game, and the Pistons needed another NBA veteran with a name---a player who wasn't too far removed from his oohs and aahs days.

The Pistons didn't need another swingman---in fact, they needed one like a hole in the head. And it wasn't like NBA teams were knocking McGrady's door down for his services. But the Pistons figured they could get McGrady on the cheap (which they did), and maybe he could still score a little and provide a veteran presence.

Check, and check.

I wrote, soon after the McGrady signing, that both sides were using each other, but that it was all good because sometimes that's what happens in business.

It probably still is true, but I have an inkling that the Pistons might be using McGrady more than he's using them, which is a good thing.

If the Pistons can manage it---no easy feat with the team up for sale---I'd be thrilled if they sat Tracy McGrady down and discussed a two or three-year contract extension.

The Pistons want to make their rebuilding process as quick and as painless as possible. The latter isn't so easy, but if they want to work on the former, then they're going to need guys like McGrady, who've been through the NBA wars.

T-Mac may not be a world champion, may have never set foot in the second round of the playoffs---not once in 14 seasons. But he HAS played in close to 900 games in the league, with and against terrific players, and in all sorts of circumstances. The one he's experiencing now, with the Pistons, just might take the cake.

It's not a bad idea to keep dudes like this on your roster, if you can manage it.

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