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Gauging Tracy McGrady's Future and Looking Ahead to 2010

Could Joe Johnson replace Tracy McGrady by 2010?
Could Joe Johnson replace Tracy McGrady by 2010?

Tracy McGrady is officially back in the news.  Consider June 16th to be "It is Perfectly O.K. to Talk About T-Mac Again" day, as the topic had been a rather shifty one ever since McGrady underwent micro-fracture surgery a few months ago.  When people brought up McGrady back then, it was almost certainly in a negative light.  Rockets fans didn't want to touch negativity, and thus, Tracy was effectively eliminated from basic conversation.  However, as of yesterday, the McGrady Drought has ended, and the rumors have been raining sideways for the past 48 hours.

Houston can do a number of things with McGrady:

  • Keep him, play him, and wait for his contract to expire.
  • Keep him, bench him for the sake of team unity, and wait for his contract to expire.
  • Trade him for a draft pick or equal value and build around and pay those players.
  • Trade him for two more expiring contracts and spend the money in the 2010 Free Agent Apocalypse.

The least likely scenario in my mind is that Houston will hold on to McGrady and actually play him through the end of next season, assuming he actually remains healthy for that long.  If we re-sign Ron Artest (which is highly likely), I think Tracy will be gone by the 2010 trade deadline.  This year's squad never jelled with McGrady on board, and it may be best to see him off to some other franchise in need of an experienced wingman. 

It was one thing to see McGrady's presence essentially hold back the Rockets last season.  But the fact that our makeshift roster then outperformed the McGrady-led Rockets leads me to believe that we may be better off without his talents on the court.  Eras come and go.  It is nothing new.

Of all the possible trade destinations for T-Mac, the New York Knicks may be the most realistic.  Does that mean it will happen?  Not at all.  It's just a report, and, as Jonathan Feigen wrote, a simple phone call from GM to GM can quickly evolve into a 400 word report.  But we'll assume that this could actually happen.  And to be honest, it is not as far-fetched as I initially thought.

You may be wondering why we would want to trade McGrady to New York.  Well, it is simple: New York has enough money to pay for McGrady, and New York has two contracts coming off the books in 2010 in Larry Hughes and Eddy Curry.  And before you ask, Curry and Hughes would mean nothing to us.  They would merely be paychecks ready to be cashed.  There are few players as inefficient in the NBA as Larry Hughes and Eddy Curry, which means GM Daryl Morey would rather resign than suit them up in red.

What does this mean?  It means that we would be getting rid of McGrady in order to "move on."  The goal of a deal such as this would be to pick up two contracts that expire at the same time that McGrady's does.  This way, the Rockets still have a boatload of cash to spend in 2010.  Obviously, we would be losing McGrady's talent on the court, but like I said, we may not have any use for it here any more given the baggage it carries.  If you really want sources, they are foggy and flimsy; I've heard chatter from a former Rockets coach through a friend and from another source close to Shane Battier that McGrady isn't at all liked by his teammates and that he and Ron Artest aren't exactly best friends.  Not very impressive, huh?  We'll leave it at speculation then.  If I find something solid, you'll be the first to know.

The other possibility is that we trade McGrady for someone of immediate value and try to win the whole thing this season.  Ryne Nelson brought up the idea of a Rip Hamilton and a 1st rounder to Houston for McGrady.  Other rumors have floated around about McGrady going to Memphis for their pick and a big contract, like Darko Milicic.  I don't believe either of those will happen, and given what McGrady's contract handicap allows us to shoot for, it would be a bad idea to try to trade McGrady for a player or two of equal value, because nobody like that is really available that would make sense.

Instead, I'd like to believe that we can contend one more year with the group of guys that we have (once again, assuming we re-sign Ron and Von Wafer).  After that, we could hit the free agent market and look for the final piece of the championship puzzle without screwing with our long-term future.

Dave sent me an e-mail yesterday about trading for Michael Redd.  I pointed out to him that Redd comes off the books in 2010, thus practically disabling a swap for T-Mac.  The better route would be to let Tracy expire and then sign Redd in the off season.  But then I thought off Redd's injury history and his age.  Sure, he is talented, but it would be too risky.  We would need a safer option.  And that option would have to be a shooting guard, like Redd.

It was at that point that I talked to my friend Jonathan about a few possibilities.  We settled on one incredibly enticing free agent option that gave me goosebumps: Joe Johnson.


Joe Johnson in a Rockets uniform.  How pretty would that be?  Once McGrady's gone (I could honestly care less which route he takes, whether by trade or free agency), Joe should be our man. Johnson puts up McGrady-like numbers, only with more assists, better shooting percentages, and fewer DNP's.  Oddly enough, a criticism of Johnson, or more directly of the Atlanta Hawks' front office, is that he can not be the number one guy on a contending team.  Sweet - send him to Houston to fight crime with our buddy, The Great Wall.  It would be the best buddy cop tandem since...McGrady and Yao (facepalm).  However, in all seriousness, signing Johnson would make the most sense.

Think of all the superstars who will be on the market in 2010.  LeBron JamesChris PaulDwyane WadeChris BoshDirk NowitzkiSteve Nash.  Amar'e Stoudemire.  Think about teams like New York and New Jersey and every other club prepared to not only open up the wallets, but the giant safe behind the painting as well.  They'll be gunning for the top dogs before they enter the Joe Johnson sweepstakes.  While everyone is making big offers to the superstars, we can make our big offer to Johnson, who I consider to be slightly below the "superstar" tier.  It could be a sneaky-good signing.

There would be no point in going after Wade or James or Bosh.  We're going to get out-offered anyway.  And there's no point in spending a gold mine for one of those players when a guy like Johnson could be better suited for our team.  He is Tracy McGrady without the extra luggage; a tall, athletic shooting guard who can shoot it from deep and can make the extra pass.  His game does the talking.  And best of all, he would just be turning 29 were we to sign him.  Redd would be thirty-one.

We've still got plenty of time until 2010, but when it comes to talking about Tracy McGrady, we can start right away.  I've stated my case.  The earliest a move could be made is June 25, 2009 - draft day.  The latest is June 2010, when his contract expires.  The most likely is between those dates, in the event of a trade.  It is all speculation for now.