Readers often get sick of the way we NBA analysts sometimes write off players too soon, either because of their production (these teams have scorekeepers that tend to write down the things that players do, and don't do), or because of the "getting it" factor. And while we HTML-stained wretches may have a lot of "getting it" to figure out in our own lives, we also have gotten pretty good at sadly realizing who isn't getting it in the world of the NBA.
Because they never seem to get it. And then they end up playing in China, or Turkey or Detroit.
The latest case? Tracy McGrady. A player who was the subject of a couple of shots sent his way by former coach Jeff Van Gundy and former employer Daryl Morey earlier this month at MIT's Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, as lovingly detailed here by Dan Devine. The basic distillation is that, because the game came so easy to McGrady (Van Gundy and Morey argued), he never boasted the needed drive to really apply himself in areas that didn't come effortlessly to him.
And Tracy? He still doesn't get it. From Chris Tomasson, at HoopsHype:
"I really don't see how, maybe I'm wrong on this. I don't just see how going hard in practice is going to take my talent to another level. I just don't see that… As far as the team jelling and practicing like that, yeah that's how you make your team better. I'm saying me personally, I just didn't see how me practicing hard was going to take my talent to another level. I always felt like working on my individual skills was taking my talent to another level… Now when I say I wasn't a great practice player, it's not like I sat out of practice. I was participating. I always participated."
You go hard in practice because it sets an example, Tracy.
Because from 2000 until last summer, you were the highest-paid active player on your two teams' rosters save for the short bursts of health from Grant Hill during his Orlando days, and as a result of signing that deal you take on responsibility that forces you into overtime hours. And because you go hard in games, and expect your teammates to do so as well, you have to have some level of familiarity with "going hard" alongside these guys before you do it on record. And the only way to practice that is to, uh, practice it.
Here's the part where we tell you that McGrady really is a sweet, intelligent and thoughtful guy. And here's the part where we remind you that, holy crap, he averaged 32 points, a combined 12 rebounds/assists, and just 2.6 turnovers in 2002-03 with the Orlando Magic. And here's where we remind that though McGrady never made it out of the first round as an active player, there wasn't one time in that first-round losing streak where I thought McGrady's squad lost to an inferior opponent.
And I'll admit that, beyond a few fawning magazine features and pictures, my first introduction to McGrady the pro came in the form of him complaining and hoping to sit out his first training camp because of sore feet during his rookie year. Not knowing that in October, Tracy, everyone has sore feet. Sore everything, really.
And here's where we point out that McGrady is aware of his issues in this area, telling Hoopshype that "I just wasn't a great practice player. I just wasn't. I wasn't."
That's one thing. Trying to explain away not being a good practice player, and finding excuses for it? That's another troubling thing.