Oh Tracy. I’ll always remember him as the elite player that he was….that averaged just nuts per game in his rookie year. Huh. Well, no one can deny that he was an elite scorer! …Oh wait, he didn’t average over 10 points per game until his third year in the league. Wait, this is the same guy that averaged over 32 PPG in a season, right? Such is the career of Mr. McGrady, whose career performance could be likened to a mountain, with a tumultuous beginning, a star-studded peak, and a quiet descent into retirement.
Part I: Toronto: The rough beginning & the slow climb
After being drafted straight from high school with the ninth overall pick by Toronto, McGrady had a horrid rookie year, which he himself described as “hell”. In addition to not receiving significant play time, he struggled with his personal life, living as a “shut-in” and feeling lonely . However, his play improved, many believe in part to the Raptors’ drafting of McGrady’s cousin Vince Carter, whom he became great friends with. In his third season (1999-2000), McGrady averaged over 15 points per game, and was the main keys to Toronto making the postseason for the first time in franchise history. However, it was after the 2000 season that McGrady signed a six-year contract with the Orlando Magic, and took his big step into superstardom.
Part II: Orlando, Houston & Superstardom
Immediately after being acquired by Orlando, McGrady was thrust into the leading scoring role for the Magic, after superstar Grant Hill got injured. McGrady took full advantage of his opportunity, averaging 26.8 points that year, and making his first All-Star team. McGrady proved he wasn’t a one-year-wonder by then averaging 25.6, 32.1, and 28.0 points per contest in his next three seasons with the Magic; in the latter two seasons he was the NBA scoring champ, becoming the youngest player to become scoring champ since the NBA/ABA merger. After the 2003-04 season however, which saw the Magic wracked with injuries, they pulled a blockbuster trade with the Houston Rockets, seeing McGrady, along with Juwan Howard, Tyronn Lue, and Reece Gaines go the Rockets in exchange for Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley, and Kelvin Cato. His stellar play continued in Houston, where in his first year he averaged 25.7 PPG, including a game against the Spurs in which he scored 13 points in the final 35 seconds. He continued to play at an exceptional level until the 2008-09 season.
Part III: Houston, New York, Detroit, Atlanta, San Antonio, Retirement: Decline
In the 2008-09 season McGrady missed 47 games due to a knee and ankle injury, and saw his scoring average dip down to 15.6 points. Injuries continued to plague him in the 2009-10 campaign, where he only played 30 games total between Houston and New York and saw his scoring dip further to 8.2 points per game. From this point on McGrady was confined to more of a sixth man role, and after two unsuccessful stops at Detroit and Atlanta (where he was signed for the veterans minimum pay) he went overseas to play for the Qingdao Eagles. Despite McGrady’s high level of play (25 PPG) the Eagles still finished in last place in the CBA standings. McGrady then quietly signed with the San Antonio Spurs just before their final regular season game, allowing him to play in the playoffs, and make his first ever NBA Finals appearance. After the Spurs lost the series, McGrady announced his retirement, saying that there was still a possibility of him playing overseas again .
Tracy McGrady had one of the most interesting careers of any player I’ve read about, a true pyramid with clearly defined nadirs and zeniths, making this one of the most fun articles I’ve wrote. While I don’t know if he’ll make the Hall of Fame or not, I believe that McGrady truly encompasses the ups-and-downs of an NBA player; he was a guy that didn’t average 10 points a night until his third year, but later scored 13 points in 35 seconds to win a game for his team. He was a guy that became the youngest scoring champ ever, but later was confined to a bench role scoring 5.3 points a night. In a modern time when guys like LeBron James and Kevin Durant are superstars from the moment their NBA careers begin, and guys like Von Wafer never really rise above a certain level, it’s refreshing to look back on a guy that started terribly, but worked his way up to an elite level.
Thank you Tracy McGrady. You’ve had a great career.