Thoughts on McGrady's Possible Return

You know, it's amazing to me that some people can take a good thing and make it seem... dirty. In case you weren't paying attention: Tracy McGrady sent an e-mail to Yahoo! Sports claiming that he will be ready to return to the Rockets' starting lineup on the 18th (the game against Minnesota); Morey has stated that the Rockets won't let him play until after the next full practice on the 23rd (the next game after that is against Dallas on the 25th). There, you're all caught up.

Now, some people have made the case that this is demonstrative of a key disconnect between McGrady and the Rockets. That's certainly a possibility, and after the series of miscommunications surrounding T-Mac's knee surgery in February it has a lot of credibility. Other seem to think that this is evidence of McGrady's continued attempts to sabotage the Houston Rockets, because, as we all know, he is some sort of Victorian melodramatic villain hell-bent on tying Rick Adelman to the railroad tracks, luring Daryl Morey to the scene, and destroying them both through some crazy scheme.

By far, the thing that has most annoyed me over the past nine months of Tracy McGrady talk has been the half-assed textual analysis going on. Those trying to find evidence of McGrady's malevolence parse sentences from any available interview, desperately twisting vague comments into support for whatever they want.

It has been almost a year. Let's stop doing this. McGrady will be making his return to the court at some point in the next month or so, and that's really all there is to it. Any attempt to divine McGrady or the Rockets' intentions from partial quotes is largely moot at this point.

With that in mind, let's tackle some of the major issues surrounding Mr. McGrady's impending return.

First, the most pressing question revolves around T-Mac's actual ability. What can we expect from post-microfracture? If he is healthy "again," what does that mean? The answers to those questions are basically unknowable until McGrady gets on the court again. Reports look good, but that doesn't really mean much. And if we're honest with ourselves, we know that unless McGrady can return to pre-'07-'08 form, he is not much of an upgrade over what we have now.

Second, what does Adelman actually do with Tracy? McGrady's e-mail (or at least how it was reported) suggests he expects to be a part of the starting lineup upon return, but we all know that seems either unlikely or undesirable. It has been almost a year since McGrady last played competitive basketball, and well over a year since he last played quality basketball.

When McGrady is healthy (and it has been years since he was last healthy for any meaningful length of time), his skillset is unique and invaluable. He's a premier scorer, has excellent court vision and ball control, and he rebounds effectively. And if he feels like it he can defend at an elite level, too.

But we have no idea of what we're going to get when McGrady returns. So perhaps the expectation (on the part of both McGrady and the fans) should be that Tracy starts off on the bench, switching out with Ariza while he gets back on his feet. After that...

Well, that's a larger question, isn't it? If he's an elite player again (unlikely, but possible), then he's an obvious starter. The issue will probably be a lot dicier than that, however. More than likely, McGrady returns to a level roughly equal to his '08 season: good, but not great, and not any better than a lot of other wings in the league. Then the Rockets are left with a starting-caliber swingman with a massive contract and a large (deservedly so, I think) ego. How do you handle that?

I'm sure this is a frustrating post to read. It's a frustrating post to write. Simply put, there are no answers here, and there won't be any for a few more weeks. It's all questions, and damn few of them are new ones. It's the same crap we've been dealing with for the last nine months. But there's a sense of immediacy here - the conclusion is imminent.  "Stay tuned" is all I can tell you.

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