After months of growing discord and mistrust between the Houston Rockets and their once-franchise player, Tracy McGrady(notes) and coach Rick Adelman engaged in an emotional and sometimes loud closed-door confrontation about the star's uncertain status on Wednesday night, sources told Yahoo! Sports.
The argument was precipitated when McGrady arrived at the Target Center in Minneapolis so determined to have a substantive discussion with his coach that he dressed in his game uniform and undertook his pregame routine as though he had been activated after missing 41 straight games with microfracture surgery on his left knee.
As McGrady walked back to the locker room after shooting with his teammates on the court, he passed Adelman in a corridor and his appearance in uniform appeared to surprise his coach. The fact McGrady had asked the equipment manager to bring out his uniform – especially on the Nov. 18 date that he had recently told Yahoo! Sports was his target for a return – clearly had his coach's attention.
McGrady understood he wouldn't be activated on Wednesday night, but sources say T-Mac was willing to go to great lengths to push his coach closer to blessing McGrady's return to the team.
Eventually, Adelman returned to the locker room and retreated with McGrady into an adjacent coach's office. McGrady slammed the door behind him, a witness said, and that marked the start of a tense, sometimes loud exchange that could be heard in the locker room, sources said.
In the discussion, McGrady challenged Adelman to tell him the coach's plans and timetable for the seven-time All-Star's eventual return to the roster, sources say. McGrady felt like Adelman had been uncommunicative with him for weeks, and no longer wanted to hear from Rockets general manager Daryl Morey or trainer Keith Jones about the team's desire to make him wait until next week to take another MRI.
"Tracy was just determined to make Rick talk to him," a source close to McGrady said. "That's why he put on the uniform and went through all that. … He wanted to get his attention. He'd like to know if he's wanted back or not."
It's believed Adelman simply repeated the Rockets' organizational stance that they will evaluate him after an MRI that's been long scheduled for Monday, and only then will the team start to consider the possibility of his return. It could come next week, it could come later. The Rockets have insisted McGrady hasn't had enough practice time and is still unfit to play, a claim that McGrady disputes.
The confrontation had been building for weeks, sources say, and underscores a lingering uneasiness between the organization and McGrady. Adelman and McGrady had a dispute last February over the way McGrady informed the team that he had chosen to undergo season-ending knee surgery. Instead of telling them directly, McGrady released the information to the public. At the time, sources say, McGrady felt betrayed in the belief that members of the organization were publicly and privately doubting the validity of his injury.
"The trust has broken down between them," a source close to McGrady and Adelman said. "There's some work to be done there."
McGrady, 30, is in the final year of his contract and is being paid a league-high $23.2 million this season. He's had a history of injuries with Houston and questions about his toughness and leadership have always been debated inside and outside the organization. In his six seasons with the Rockets, McGrady has missed 125 games because of back and knee problems. Once the Rockets advanced to Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals without McGrady last season, there came evidence that the Rockets employ a more balanced lineup capable of wining without him.
Sources say McGrady has started to wonder whether the Rockets want him back with this team, or whether they've been motivated to let him sit and collect on insurance money. Assuming that McGrady is covered under the NBA's Temporary Total Disability (TTD) insurance policy, Houston can start to collect up to 80 percent of his prorated per-game salary after he's missed 41 consecutive games. McGrady sat out his 42nd straight game Wednesday in Minnesota, and the league insurance plan would reimburse the Rockets for any additional missed games.
For the rest of the season, the insurance policy could cover 80 percent of his per-game salary of $282,946. Even if McGrady returns to the lineup for one or more games this season, the insurance would still pay the Rockets for each additional missed game. The insurance company can identify 12 exclusions to the policy among particularly high-risk NBA players, but can only do so at the time a new contract is signed. McGrady signed his three-year, $63 million extension in November 2004.
Beyond the possible financial repercussions, sources within and close to the team say the Rockets – especially Adelman – are unenthusiastic about McGrady returning. The Rockets have started the season with a surprising 7-5 record, despite missing McGrady and center Yao Ming(notes). For now, anyway, sources say the organization likes the team's chemistry and cohesion without McGrady.
Wednesday's incident wasn't the first testy exchange recently between Adelman and McGrady. They also argued in a practice session last week. In the preseason, sources say McGrady asked management to let him play approximately 12 to 15 minutes total in two exhibition games to gauge where he stood in his comeback. The organization, sources say, told him he would need to pass a standardized conditioning test. McGrady did but still stayed on the sideline.
Before McGrady began his rehabilitation in Chicago this summer, he had to be cleared by a top athletic surgeon for full-contact basketball. Ultimately, McGrady was deemed OK to play daily against All-Star talents like Dwyane Wade(notes) and Devin Harris(notes).
Yahoo! Sports NBA reporter Marc Spears contributed to this story.