From the couch to the court, McGrady grateful for opportunity
Tracy McGrady has been in chill mode for the last two months, and now he finds himself hopping on with a playoff-bound NBA team. One with a title in its sights, something he’s never had a chance to experience.
And the ongoing joke has been that this signing guarantees the Spurs won’t get by their first-round opponent. The McGrady curse, they’re calling it. But T-Mac won’t play tonight, Gregg Popovich said. After all, he hasn’t been, you know, playing basketball recently. So how is his conditioning?
“Considering I’ve been a couch potato since I’ve been back from China, (it’s) surprisingly good,” McGrady said in front of the San Antonio media contingent for the first time. “I kind of stayed in shape just in case that call (to play) was going to happen. But after a month, month and a half went by, nothing. So I kind of relaxed a little bit.
“And out of the blue, here we go. I was getting out of church and I looked at my phone, and Pop called me. It was a shock.”
His prayers were answered, so to speak (joke attribution to Dan McCarney). Or at least his wife’s were.
“I’ll tell you, my wife was praying for it,” he said. “I got really relaxed. I was with my kids, because the whole time I was in China I didn’t see my kids. That’s four months. So I was enjoying my time off.”
With all the injury problems surrounding some key players, Pop said this move was made to potentially cover the holes that exist in this roster. But McGrady — who was drafted ninth overall by the Toronto Raptors the same year Tim Duncan was selected by the Spurs — won’t see action for at least a little while.
“I think it’ll be a few weeks. We needed another body, an insurance policy in case somebody goes down, somebody’s in foul trouble,” Pop said. “I don’t know what the situation might be but it just seems wise to have another perimeter body in case we need someone on the court.”
Not much elaboration on Pop’s part (shocking, I know), but there was a smile when reminded of a night in 2004, when McGrady dropped 13 points on his team in 33 seconds. If you think about T-Mac and the Spurs in the same breath, it’s the first thing that pops in to your brain. In just a little more than half a minute, a two-time league scoring title winner burnt an image never to be forgotten by San Antonio fans, as he fist-pumped and yelled in the direction of a courtside camera after pulling off what seemed impossible.
“I remember that game very well,” Pop said, grinning. “It’s one of those games you never forget.”
And it’s certainly something McGrady fondly recalls. His fans make certain he does, especially those in China.
“My Asian fans won’t let it go. Every time I’m over there it’s all they really talk about. I can never forget it,” he said. “I think they had a day where they celebrated it, and I’m not joking.”
He won’t find a day of celebration like that in this town, though. With Fiesta right around the corner, the playoffs are what create lasting memories around here. How much McGrady might contribute remains to be seen, but he said this is an opportunity he won’t take for granted. With all the playoff flameouts and failures that make up his career storyline, he is now with a team capable of taking him farther into the postseason than he’s ever been.
“This is unbelievable. A championship environment, something I haven’t really been a part of my whole career. I’m very excited. I’m humbled (by) the opportunity,” he said. “I’m not sure if I’ll play, or when I’ll play, that’s not the case for me. I just know when my number is called I’ll be ready. I’m just glad to be here.”
Gone are the 40-point scoring nights, and gone are the days where he’s the lead dog. But that’s OK with McGrady. Whether it was an injury to Grant Hill in Orlando or Yao (Ming) in Houston, the pressure was always heaped on the 33-year-old to carry teams not quite as good as their competition.
“I think so much is made that I’ve never gotten past the first round, but it takes more than just me,” he said. “I’ve always stepped up in the playoffs. Some teams we faced were obviously better than us. It just didn’t happen.”
But here, it’s a different situation.
“It’s good to be a part of a team with the tradition of winning championships that expects greatness,” McGrady said. “No pressure’s on me.”
For someone who’s endured plenty of criticism for his inability to carry a team beyond the opening round, that final comment is appropriate. And he’s right. There is none. For the first time in his playoff career he will be a part of a franchise that’s chasing a fifth ring, one with plenty of pressure valves. So what can we expect from McGrady when, and if, he sees the court? After an injury-riddled career, one that includes microfracture surgery in 2009, the seven-time All-Star said he finally feels good again. But his game has changed.
“I’m not as quick as I used to be. My game is the mid-post area,” he said. “These guys are far younger in the league these days; much quicker. It doesn’t make much sense for me to handle the ball out there on the perimeter and try to take these guys off the dribble.
“Just make it easy and stay on the mid-post,” McGrady continued. “One dribble to the basket, foul. Simplify it.”
At least he’s self-aware, which is something Popovich values. If anything, McGrady just adds another smart basketball player to a locker room full of them. How much he plays just remains to be seen.
“He knows how to play. We don’t have any expectation,” Pop said. “He may not play at all and he may play a bunch. It just depends on situations as we move along. He’s a quality player and a good person, and he’ll fit in well with everybody.
“We’re glad to have him.”
Other notes from shootaround:
Manu Ginobili will play in tonight’s final regular-season game, Pop said. In an effort to get a little bit of on-court action under his belt, the Spurs sixth man will see some closely watched burn against Minnesota.
“Manu’s going to play a few minutes,” Pop said. “Very few, but he’ll play.”
Ginobili was working out with Brett Brown during the portion of practice available to the media, and while nothing was at full-speed, Manu seemed to be moving pretty fluidly.
In other news, Pop also said Tiago Splitter will not play this evening in an effort to give the big man some rest before the postseason starts.