- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
"You shine a bright light on them, and their eyes glow and they don't move at all," Tracy says. "They stay right there because they're terrified."
Just as the playoffs defined his friend Kobe Bryant as a big-time player, so too will they offer McGrady an opportunity to validate his stature in the league. Like Bryant, he likely will stumble in the postseason before he succeeds. But McGrady isn't thinking long-term; he has an immediate goal. "The Finals, man," he says. "The East is up for grabs."
There's no sense telling him that such a goal is probably beyond his team's reach—not when he has reached so high already.
The Mutombo Trade
Atlanta president Stan Kasten keeps an intriguing handwritten list on a grease board in his office. It begins with the starting five of the 1985-86 champion Celtics: Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Danny Ainge, Dennis Johnson. "Each of those players was acquired in a unique, gutsy, risky, bold way," Kasten says.
The rest of the list reinforces Kasten's contention that teams often obtain the most helpful players in the least likely fashion. NBA stalwarts like Vlade Divac and Sarunas Marciulionis came from Eastern Europe. Steve Kerr and Dennis Rodman were improbable role players who helped the Bulls win NBA titles. The list even includes the NFL's Roger Staubach, who was drafted even though he could not play for several years.
Pete Babcock, Atlanta's G.M., exhibited Kasten's brand of creative thinking last Thursday when he made a six-player swap hours before the trading deadline, sending Dikembe Mutombo to the 76ers for Theo Ratliff, who could be out for the season with a broken right wrist, and Toni Kukoc. Since last August, Babcock had spent several hours every day plotting moves involving the 7'2" Mutombo, who can become a free agent after this season.
"If you would ask me to put together a list like Stan's, it would include gambles that didn't work," says Babcock. "One of those names would be J.R. Rider." Babcock sent Steve Smith to Portland for Rider in August 1999, and that season ended Atlanta's run of seven straight playoff seasons and resulted in the resignation of coach Lenny Wilkens. The further unraveling of the Hawks over the last two months also persuaded Mutombo that he wouldn't re-sign with Atlanta this summer.
Babcock's trade of Mutombo yielded intriguing possibilities. In the 6'10" Ratliff the Hawks got a shot-blocking All-Star center who, at 27, will be a better fit with their young cast than the 34-year-old Mutombo. The 6'11" Kukoc, 32, should help Atlanta cut down on its league-worst 17.2 turnovers per game. "We hope to run a lot of our offense through Kukoc," Babcock says. "Nobody has done that with him."