Much has been said about the Knicks trading for T-Mac. If you’re interested in reading about it, and haven’t had the chance to, you can check out some other people’s opinions here, and here.

I don’t have anything particularly interesting to say about the salary-cap ramifications of the deal that hasn’t already been said: the Knicks cleared a bunch of cap space, which will prove to be a good thing if they sign 2 superstars, and will prove to be a complete waste if they don’t. I’ve already blogged that it’s very difficult to build a championship team via free agency, and I won’t repeat myself (if the number of comments are any indication, nobody thought it was particularly worthwhile the first time). It’s a risky move to give away draft picks in exchange for freeing up cap space, but if any team can build via free agency, the New York Knicks with a whole bunch o’ cap space is as likely a team as any other to get it done.

When talking about the McGrady trade, I’m more interested in exploring the possibility that he – T-Mac – actually winds up helping the Knicks for reasons that have nothing to do with the salary cap. To be clear, I haven’t even seen McGrady move in months. For all I know, he limps around, or grimaces when he walks. Obviously, if that’s the case, he ain’t helping the Knicks on the court. I have to assume, though, that for the Knicks to give up draft picks in the trade, they had to at least see that he moves fluidly and without pain on the court. If that’s the case, then I think an under-reported aspect of this trade is that McGrady himself could be a valuable piece to a solid Knicks team in the near future.

That’s because basketball, much more so than football or baseball, is a game dominated by stars. Role players are important, if the team already has stars in place. But role players alone won’t make a bad team good.

Whatever else may be true about McGrady, he has been a star before; he’s one of the few guys in the league who has ever been the best player on a playoff team. In fact, I don’t think there are more than 30 guys in the league who can make that claim. By my quick count, the list begins with the 16 guys who were the best player on a playoff team last year:
1. LeBron
2. Pierce
3. Joe Johnson
4. Dwight Howard
5. Wade
6. Andre Iguadala
7. Derrick Rose
8. Richard Hamilton
9. Kobe
10. Carmelo
11. Duncan
12. Brandon Roy
13. Yao
14. Dirk
15. Chris Paul
16. Deron Williams

It also includes the following guys:
1. Iverson
2. Nash
3. Shaq
4. Kidd
5. Chauncey Billups
6. T-Mac
7. Ray Allen
8. KG
9. Baron Davis (remember when the Warriors were a threat?)
10. Arenas
11. Vince Carter
12. Grant Hill

There are probably 2 or 3 guys that I’m forgetting, so let’s say there are about 30 guys in the league who were, at some point, the best player on a playoff team. One team in the league has three of them (Celtics), and 6 teams have 2 of them (Cavs, Magic, Mavs, Sixers, Nuggets, and Suns). Following me? That covers 15 of the 30 guys.

That leaves 23 other teams in the league and 15 other guys who have ever been the best player on a playoff team (and one of those 15 guys is Gilbert Arenas, who, um, has some issues).

Well, the Knicks just got one of those guys. I’m not saying he can lead them back to the playoffs — as I said, I don’t even know if he’s walking without a limp. I’m saying that he has breathed rarified air, and he’s only 30 years old. If he’s able to be 75% of what he once was, he’s probably good enough to be the second or third best player on a solid team.

Thumbs up, Knicks.

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