MIAMI – This certainly wasn’t the way Tracy McGrady envisioned getting to the NBA Finals, but after what he’s been through, he’ll take it.
McGrady will be making the first NBA Finals appearance of his 16-year career with the San Antonio Spurs facing the Miami Heat. The seven-time All-Star's career was riddled with injuries and was presumed over after playing professionally in China this season. But after the Spurs signed McGrady on April 16, he not only got past the first round of the playoffs for the first time, but ultimately advanced to the Finals.
“It’s good to be experiencing this before I leave the game, although it’s not under the circumstances I would like. I’ve been enjoying it,” McGrady said prior to the Spurs’ practice on Wednesday.
Prior to signing with the Spurs, the two-time All-NBA First Team selection averaged 19.6 points and scored 18,381 total points during his NBA career. The 34-year-old also enjoyed seven seasons scoring over 24 points per game, including a career-high average of 32.1 points per game with the Orlando Magic during the 2002-03 season.
While McGrady had championship aspirations while teaming up with Grant Hill in Orlando and Yao Ming in Houston, major injuries to all three players ended those hopes. McGrady was limited to playing less than 50 games played during the 2005-06, 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons. He said he “always thinks, ‘What if?’,” in regards to his NBA career.
“I don’t think any of us expected it this way,” McGrady said. “But some of us are dealt different cards. Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t blessed to play with other All-Stars, other great players. A lot of people don’t realize it, but I was only able to play with only one All-Star. And that was Yao.
“I didn’t play with no [healthy] All-Star my whole career. Didn’t have one in Orlando. Yao was in and out with injuries. You see some of these guys today with two or three Hall of Famers on one team. I didn’t have that.”
After three lackluster seasons that included stops with the Rockets, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks from 2009-12, McGrady wasn’t sought after strongly as a free agent. He eventually signed with Qingdao of the Chinese Basketball Association. McGrady averaged 25 points, 7.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists for Qingdao this season, and made solid money off the court, too.
“It was great, unbelievable, seriously,” McGrady said. “It just felt good to have that feeling where people appreciate your game and getting that feeling back of being the showman that I once was on the basketball court… I’ve lost that once I dealt with that my knee injury. Going back over there, getting my swag back a little bit, having the ball in my hands, doing what I know what I am going to do, getting that familiar feeling was great.”
McGrady was at his offseason home in Houston relaxing nearly two months after the Chinese season ended when Spurs coach Gregg Popovich called to his surprise. McGrady was signed to replace veteran swingman Stephen Jackson (who was waived by the Spurs) with no promises from Popovich about playing time. McGrady says he signed largely due to the possibility of the Spurs making it to the Finals. He is scoreless on four shots in 17 minutes in four playoff games.
“I shut it down for two months and I was shocked when I got a phone call from (Spurs coach Gregg Popovich),” McGrady said. “I was shocked. I got out of shape and I was like, ‘You want me to come down now?’ So when I went up to visit him, he told me he wanted me to be a part of his team. I just started getting back in shape and here I am.”
So will McGrady return to China or the NBA next season? Actually, he said “it’s a possibility” he will retire.
“We’ll see after this season how I feel,” McGrady said. “If this team was the last team standing, who knows how I would feel about playing basketball again? To be on a championship team and to win a championship … if that was to happen, I don’t see any other reason for me to come back. I feel that I got a lot of game left, but I can’t come back and settle.”
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