The Rockets have put together a nice streak as of late. An incredible few weeks given where the team was at the beginning of 2009. McGrady was in-and-out every other game, Artest was in-and-out every other game. The Rockets were playing mediocre and uninspired basketball. So... what happened?
Von Wafer hit a three-pointer from the corner to beat the Boston Celtics. In Boston.
Prior to that moment, the Rockets had lost three in a row, and four of the previous five. It was a disaster of a road trip. Right up until the team decided enough was enough. Without McGrady or Artest, the Rockets stunned the defending champions, who had only lost one game on their home floor prior to then.
As Jules Winfield once explained... it was what alcoholics refer to as a "moment of clarity" for the Rockets. They stopped sniping at each other, refrained from making more excuses - and simply remembered how to play winning basketball.
Look at the team now. Since Wafer poisoned the Boston Three Party, the Rockets have won six of their last seven games. The one loss? A closely-fought contest against the Los Angeles Lakers (who at the time had the best record in the NBA). The Rockets are two Rafer Alston free throws (and a 29 foot shot from Kobe) from having a seven-game winning streak.
The question is: why?
I know Tracy McGrady has been a target for a lot of criticism lately. We certainly have piled on at this site. But it's come to the point where I think we seriously need to evaluate what it is that Tracy McGrady brings to the team, the locker room and to the on-court performance of the Houston Rockets. I hesitate to use the word "cancer" -- but it's possible that McGrady (without even realizing it) has been hurting his own team for quite some time.
I know McGrady wants to play. I know he wants to win. Badly. I don't think he's selfish at all. I do think he's prone to being moody. Unfortunately, because he's the highest-profile player on the team, the other 14 members on the roster are prone to following his lead. If Tracy mopes... the team mopes. If Tracy is lethargic, so is everyone else. Again, it's not necessarily his fault, per se, but the difference in attitude and energy on the court in McGrady's absence requires a closer look.
Rick Adelman's offense is based on passing and movement. It's also geared towards taking advantage of fast-break opportunities when they are presented. With McGrady in the lineup... well... how often did anyone see Adelman's offense put to use? The same thing happened last year. The offense never "clicked" until McGrady was out of the lineup last January and he was forced to watch others run the offense to perfection (which not so coincidentally led to the Streak).
Just when I thought McGrady would finally buy into Adelman's system -- the same thing happened this year. McGrady would dominate the ball. (To be fair, so did Artest, but that's another topic for another day.) Tracy's teammates would stop running and cutting (except Scola and Landry). The shot clock would run down... and McGrady would take a fadeaway 19 foot shot. That would rim out. That was the offense du jour for the first 35 games or so. And it led to a series of uninspiring performances... and it started to hurt the team's effort on the defensive end, too.
Then McGrady is forced to take time off again.
Next thing you know... the team starts passing the ball again. Players start running and cutting. The energy is back. A random guy named Von Wafer all of a sudden provides a spark that Tracy McGrady has been unable to provide for almost two seasons. The team starts winning. With regularity. Players have become more aggressive on the offensive and defensive end. This is a good thing.
Do we really think these things are wholly un-related to Tracy McGrady's absence?
It's on Tracy now. When he comes back within the next 7-10 days... hopefully he sees that he's got a team of very good basketball players around him. Guys that can pass, shoot and play defense. The "let's stand around and wait for Tracy to do something" offense has got to stop. I can only hope McGrady realizes this. For if he doesn't... well, then I can only hope Daryl Morey notices.
The Rockets are too good, too talented, and have too deep of a roster to let Tracy McGrady's moodiness dictate their future. I'm anxious to see a healthy Tracy McGrady back on the court playing all-out for the team. But only if he's willing to commit. Only if. There can be no compromise here.
The choice is yours, Tracy.