McGrady says he's lost a step ... at ripe old age of 27
Posted: Friday November 10, 2006 12:11AM; Updated: Friday November 17, 2006 10:26AM
Tracy McGrady expects to be healthy until his contract ends in 2009-10, but after that, he says, "It's a big question mark."
Also in this column: Bobcats to Morrison: Shoot more! Q&A: NBA's shadow commissioner
The enigma of Tracy McGrady continues. "I'm young,'' he says. "But I'm old.''
McGrady is 27, yet he entered his 10th season with a sensitive back that sidelined him for 34 games last season. He feels much older than he looks. "My first year here,'' he says, referring to his 2004-05 debut with Houston after being traded by Orlando, "I felt like I was that same type of guy that was in the Magic uniform, that I could go out and get 30 or 40 every night. At this point right now, I don't feel that way. I feel like the last few years my game has diminished a little bit. I don't know if it's because I'm older, because of the injuries or what, but I feel that I'm a step slower.''
McGrady is an interesting test case for the NBA. Personnel people are studying him, Kevin Garnett and other teenaged draft picks in hope of recalibrating the standard graph for NBA longevity. The traditional thinking has been that NBA players are at their peak between 28 to their early 30s, but that traditional model was based on rookies who used to enter the league in their early 20s after three or more years of college.
McGrady was drafted as a 17-year-old in 1997. When Larry Bird had played as many NBA games as McGrady -- 617 -- Bird was a 30-year-old whose body was already starting to break down, leading to his retirement five years later. "The last six years I've been playing a lot of minutes,'' McGrady says. "In Orlando I was playing 40-plus, and what I had to do for them -- guarding the best players and scoring the ball -- really took a toll on my body. I don't feel 27. It's not so much the years that you play in this league, it's more so the mileage and the minutes and everything that you do that takes a toll on you. It's definitely done that to me.
"I had a very quick first step, and I've lost a little bit of that. I've put on some weight, but hey, man, as you get older you slow down a little bit and that's what's happened to me. I look at Kobe Bryant. He's still a great player, but he had to sort of change his game a little bit because we're getting older. He's breaking down as well with the surgeries. I saw him [Friday] night and he doesn't look the same. He doesn't look the same at all. He looks heavier and he looks slower.''
Bryant, by the way, is 28.
Is McGrady ready to cash out? On the contrary. He compares himself to the pitchers who lose something off their fastball yet compensate with a better understanding of how to work the plate. "Roger Clemens doesn't throw as hard as he used to throw, but he's very smart, he knows how to mix his pitches up and keep the batters off balance,'' McGrady says. "Obviously I'm not 40-something years old, but just the whole mentality of knowing that you don't have that overpowering [presence] that you would normally have when you were younger. As you get older you don't have that, so you got to find another way -- and that's got to be by smarts.''
McGrady's career seemed to be at risk last year when Rockets owner Leslie Alexander personally decided to hold him out for the final month in order to get to the bottom of his back injury. McGrady spent the summer getting leaner and now swears that he doesn't worry about reinjuring his back. "My back was so jacked up, I was healthy -- this is no lie -- for one game last year, and that was the first game of the season,'' he says. "I kind of lost my passion for the game, but I worked my ass off to get into tip-top shape just to bounce back and come into training camp more focused than ever.
"I think I'll be healthy to play out this contract,'' says McGrady, who is signed through 2009-10, when he'll be making $23.2 million as a 30-year-old. "But after that it's a big question mark.''
By acquiring Shane Battier and Bonzi Wells, the Rockets have assembled a contending roster around Yao Ming and McGrady, whom coach Jeff Van Gundy routinely refers to as "one of the great decision-makers in the league.''
Explains Van Gundy: "A lot of guys would have trouble accepting me saying to the team that Yao is our No. 1 option in the halfcourt, but Tracy's fine with that. I hear all this 'Me-Mac' stuff from down in Orlando. I don't know what happened, but if he was that way there, he hasn't been that way from Day One here. This guy has been all about the team.''