Tracy McGrady was never going to finish this season as a Houston Rocket. It's time we stop kidding ourselves about an alternative, because there never was one, really.
Hindsight may be 20/20, but that's precisely why it's useful. Look at all the steps that were taken throughout this entire process. This was never about slowly bringing Tracy back into the mold. Before Tracy ever took the court, Rick Adelman sensed that there would be problems. No matter how in-shape McGrady claimed to be, it was a lost cause. It would be like betting on an aged horse fresh off of a leg injury to compete in the Kentucky Derby against nineteen lightening-fast thoroughbreads. I wouldn't do it, and neither would Rick.
Eventually, however, McGrady got to play, and for one reason and one reason only: to showcase him. At the time, Tracy's giant expiring contract was the sole reason for his trade interest. As of today, nothing has changed - he's still a giant wad of cash, rather than an NBA star. But if I'm Daryl Morey, and I have one of the more intriguing trade options rotting on my bench, why sell myself short? I'm fairly certain that I can increase his value ever so slightly, just so that teams may consider him as more than just a coupon for the 2010 Free Agent Jamboree.
In playing McGrady sparingly, the Rockets were giving teams the impression that McGrady could actually be of some use on the court. Listen, Mr. Riley, we both know that Tracy isn't close to what he once was. But he's not exactly dead air, either. Why not give us Anthony Randolph, and we'll call it even? Whoops, caught myself daydreaming there.
The confusing aspect for many people out there was the issue surrounding the limited minutes. Adrian Wojnarowski said in his most recent column that "this farce needs to end." Well, yes, yes it does. But it was never a farce, playing Tracy for eight minutes at a time. If anything, it proved to GM's that McGrady could still play, without actually proving it.
Part of it was the injury-risk factor. We know Tracy's injury history all too well. We also know how varied the recovery period of microfracture surgery patients can be. If Adelman plugged McGrady in for twenty minutes per night, who knows what could have happened? He may have gotten injured, or he may have been survived without a single complaint. In this case, ignorance to that scenario is much more comforting than having to reveal the details of T-Mac's latest MRI.
On the flip side, there's the issue of revealing too much to interested GM's. Granted, playing McGrady only eight minutes per game gave general managers a limited scope through which to gauge McGrady's health and ability. But that's the whole point, isn't it? In the same column, Wojnarowski quoted a front office executive as having the following take on McGrady's play:
The executive had watched most of those unmemorable 47 minutes, but wanted to make sure that he hadn’t missed something. The evidence was incomplete, but the conclusion unmistakable: T-Mac is no longer an impact player, just an expiring contract.
Whatever. The juicy part, however, is what the executive said next:
"That said, how am I supposed to tell anything off the minutes they were giving him?"
Aha! All of McGrady's predictablity just went out the window, or at least most of it. This is a good thing. It allows general managers out there to conceive their own opinions on McGrady, and what he is actually capable of. Some GM's might conclude that Tracy is nothing more than a contract. Others might feel differently. The fact that there could be a differing opinion is something that should excite each and every one of you.
The Rockets essentially have two options here. Either they attempt to trade for a young, expensive impact player, or they simply trade for more expiring contracts. The latter is becoming much less of a reality, unless the Knicks are just dying to trade for a ticket-seller. Whatever the case, the Rockets aren't going to buy Tracy out. That's akin to Charlie Bucket paying his life savings in order to get rid of his golden ticket.
I do expect the Rockets to honor Tracy's trade request, because keeping him around isn't going to do any good. Rumors have been flying for months now, traveling from Golden State to New York, to Toronto and to New Orleans. We'll just have to wait and see what happens.
On a final note, I hope everyone here understands that it's not Tracy's fault for wanting to play more, and for believing that he is healthy. That is human nature, especially for someone who hasn't played in six months. The Rockets did what they thought was sound in limiting his minutes. For once, the blame game should not be employed.