Tag Archives: Tracy McGrady

A Word About Aging Superstars

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the impact that aging has on a person. No, it’s not because I see the impact that aging has on my hairline every time I look in the mirror. Rather, it’s because of some of the things being done by aging superstars in the NBA.

As you all know, Tracy McGrady joined the Knicks recently. To date, he has played in 4 games for the Knicks, and has put up point totals of 26, 15, 6, and 23. When he puts up 20 or more points, it’s easy for Knicks fans to get excited that they have T-Mac, not as good as he once was, but still a star. When he puts up 6, it’s easy for Knicks fans to worry that the best player on their team is an old dude who just has nothing left. (By the way, McGrady is only 30, but, given his history of injuries, I think it’s non-controversial to say that he’s on the downside of his career, and group him with other “aging superstars.”)

Following McGrady’s short career with the Knicks reminds me of when I used to watch Lawrence Taylor play for the Giants at the end of his career. He clearly wasn’t as good as he had once been, no longer dominating games, or even making a consistent contribution. But, every time the ball was snapped, there was a sense that LT was going to do something spectacular. And sometimes he did. For moments, he looked like the LT we remembered, rather than an old dude with nothing left.

The point, for me, was that aging superstars can still be superstars sometimes. What they lose, generally, is not the ability to be spectacular at any given moment or for any given game, but, rather, what they lose is the ability to be consistently spectacular. The body can still do what it used to do – sometimes – but injuries take longer to heal, and fatigue sets in more quickly.

Think of Michael Jordan on the Wizards. Over an 82-game season, he wasn’t even good enough to lead them to the playoffs. But at times, he was brilliant. Do you remember the New Year’s Eve game when he dropped 43 points? Or just look at what Jason Kidd did last night: 19 points, 16 rebounds, and 17 assists. He’s not as good as he once was, but, on any given night, he can still be awesome.

If you’re with me so far, raise your hand. Good, it looks like you’re all with me.

If this is right, that aging superstars are still superstars, but only sometimes, I think it means that teams that have an aging superstar as one of their 2 best players are in trouble; they just have too many off nights from one of their top 2 guys to be a real force. I think this means that Dallas is in trouble, it’s hard to see them winning multiple 7-game series with Jason Kidd as one of their best two players (and, with due respect to Caron Butler, Kidd is one of their best two players). On the other hand, I think this yet another reason to recognize that LeBron has a very capable supporting cast; the second-best Cav, Mo Williams, is young, and an aging Shaq still looks like Shaq every once in a while (he had 20 points and 7 boards – on 9-for-13 shooting – on Tuesday night).

The most interesting teams to look at through this lens are the Spurs and Celtics. If the Celtics are healthy, then, at this point, their best two players are probably Rondo and Pierce. It’s not yet clear (to me, at least) whether Pierce is on the downside of his career, or whether he’s just suffering a drop in numbers because of nagging injuries. If he’s healthy, and he’s not yet on the downside of his career, then the Celtics‘ two best players are reliably consistent, and their supporting cast includes two aging superstars — who will like like Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett about once every 2 or 3 games. Not bad. Turning to the Spurs, Tim Duncan pretty clearly fits the profile of an aging superstar. Check out his Game Log; he has multiple games of 25 or more points, and multiple games of 15 or fewer points. If he’s one of their top two weapons, the Spurs are in trouble. But, if Ginobili and Parker are both healthy, and Duncan is their third-best option, that’s a scary team.

All of that said, I have a plan for the Knicks: They should sign the best two young stars they can get. Then they should surround those two dudes with a bunch of aging superstars. Keep McGrady. Add Iverson. Shaq. Ray Allen. Grant Hill. Rotate their minutes, so that McGrady Iverson, and Shaq play heavy minutes during the games when Hill and Allen rest. Then switch, so everyone stays fresh. Once every 2 or 3 games, they’ll look like the Dream Team.

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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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