The Lone Star Blues
With Grant Hill out, Tracy McGrady has to carry the load in Orlando
This was not how Tracy McGrady planned to celebrate his third All-Star Game—by throwing up in the locker room during the player introductions. "I was feeling weak, like I was about to pass out," he said.
But the flu wouldn't keep him from missing Michael Jordan's farewell as an All-Star. As play began and McGrady broke a sweat, he started to feel better; then he took over the game, scoring 17 points in the third quarter and 29 overall in the East's 155-145 double-overtime loss in Atlanta. The 6'8" McGrady's versatility was on full display at Phillips Arena as he moved from playing point guard to dunking spectacularly on the break to defending against the game's MVP, Kevin Garnett. And all that on an empty, grumbling stomach.
It helped that McGrady saw none of the gimmick defenses that he routinely faces in Orlando, where, he acknowledges, his supporting cast is weaker than it's ever been. (The Magic was in ninth place in the East at the break, with a 24-26 record.) "Having to do everything by yourself, it's tough," the 23-year-old McGrady says. "I don't like saying that because it's a team sport, but that's just how it is."
Upgrading will be difficult. Because McGrady and Grant Hill take up roughly half of Orlando's cap space, the team doesn't have the flexibility to acquire a major inside player. McGrady knows that the Magic's prospects hinge on Hill's left ankle, which has been operated on three times over the last three seasons—and, according to McGrady, will probably soon go under the knife a fourth time. Last week G.M. John Gabriel said that Hill will rest his ankle for at least another month, after which doctors may perform "minor" surgery to alleviate what they believe is tendinitis.
"I don't know how Grant can come back," McGrady says. "But he's fighting, and I'm not giving up on him. I know a lot of people who would have hung it up already if they were in his position."
The only benefit of Hill's absence is that it has accelerated McGrady's development. "He reminds me of a young Julius Erving in a lot of ways—his length, his athleticism," says 76ers coach Larry Brown, who will coach McGrady on the Olympic team over the next two summers. "There's nothing he can't do." With a league-leading 30.4 points per game, T-Mac is on his way to becoming the youngest player to average 30 points since Bob McAdoo in 1974-75. "It's not what I want to do," he says of his increased offensive output, "but I feel like I've got to score a lot for my team to be in games."
McGrady's primary goal is to carry Orlando past the first round of the playoffs. It will be hard for him just to make the postseason while having to beat double teams at one end and defend the best player in the fourth quarters of close games at the other. Asked how much energy he'll have left after the regular season, McGrady says, "Great players can't get tired in the playoffs."
Magic coach Doc Rivers believes that his All-Star is the league's MVP, but McGrady demurs, saying the award should go to a player on a championship contender. That's why he disagrees with those who feel that he's become a better player than Kobe Bryant. "Kobe does have Shaq," McGrady says, "but the kid can play, you can't take that away from him. I'm chasing him. He has three rings, I haven't been out of the first round."
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