Some people aren't as predictable as you might think.
I once had an American History teacher who made it his personal mission to be able to answer any question with a famous quotation. It was a horrible goal, to sacrifice originality for the best answer available at any opportunity. But he stuck with it, and it became his trademark. If you wanted a good yearbook quote, Ray Balch was your man.
On the first day of school, a fellow classmate, who I'm convinced was akin to one Stuart Minkis, decided to kiss ass and pop a question, a question whose answer could, at the very least, make Mr. Balch sound like Socrates. "Mr. Balch," he asked, "how does carefully studying history help to improve the life skills of students such as ourselves?"
Imagine the verbal onslaught that Eric Cartman would unleash upon this butt smoocher.
Balch wasn't buying any of it. "That's a pointless question," he said, "but I'll pull something out of the old quote hatch if it makes you happy."
He put down his coffee mug, cleared his throat and repeated the following quotation from a famous historian whose name I can't remember at the moment. Either way, it was a fantastic answer.
"Man learns from history that man learns nothing from history."
Yes, of course. Man learns nothing from history, and therefore it repeats itself. Not only did it make perfect sense, but the fact that Balch answered in a tone reminiscent of Herman Boone's "Who's your daddy?" speech raised my opinion of him significantly. But what does it have to do with basketball?
Perhaps Balch's line, as well as my change of heart on his behalf, could apply to Tracy McGrady...
It's only a hunch. It also totally goes against everything I've muttered about McGrady so far. Reports out of rehab have been fantastic, but it's just the early stages. Despite that, I think this could be a bounce-back year for Mr. 13 in 35.
Normally, that wouldn't be a very ballsy statement. But there are extraneous circumstances here. It's not just the surgery that he's got to overcome - he has to rebound from his piss-poor performance in 2008 as well. Of course, this is all assuming that he's completely healthy.
Our standards can't be too high with Tracy. He's never going to wield the T-Mac aura in the same way that he once did. He's been playing too long, and his legs, healthy or not, just won't work like they used to. Remember that dunk he had against the Bulls last year? As badass as it looked, he barely got off the ground. And then there was the Milwaukee incident, which we won't discuss.
That said, I do think that we can expect to see a smarter, more team-oriented Tracy. His decision to undergo surgery should, among other things, humble him to a degree. Not to say that McGrady will lose his competitive edge - that's not possible at this point. Rather, the surgery should serve to get rid of the "It's on me" mentality. That's not what kind of player he needs to be this year.
As good a passer as he is, Tracy will never simply give up on shooting and aim for ten assists per game. His ego is too large, and his belief in his shooting talent is too high. But perhaps Tracy can become a smarter scorer, in addition to looking to pass more. We've seen Kobe Bryant persevere as an elite scorer because he found ways to score without necessarily relying on his athleticism, thus putting less pressure on his knees. It's not beyond Tracy to be able to do the same.
McGrady's "every other game" schedule hurt the Rockets' team chemistry immensely last year. Hopefully, with a fresh knee and a fresh start, Tracy will be able to make an impact in 2009. Recent history may not be on his side, but when you really think about it, how often does history not repeat itself? I'm putting Balch on hold for now in favor of some good ole' fashioned optimism. As you can see, that's become a reoccurring theme of mine lately.
For any Entourage fans out there, there's a particular Ari Gold quote that seems fitting to this situation. As Vincent Chase walks up the red carpet to enter the premier of his new blockbuster movie Gatsby, Gold approaches his star client, looks him square in the face, and says, "Vinny, it's time to re-introduce you to the world."
In 30 games or so, it will be T-Mac's turn.
Photo via dimemag.com