After a futile career filled with first round exits on teams where he lacked the help to get him over the hump, Tracy McGrady thinks back to the one team he played on that could have potentially contended for a championship: the Toronto Raptors.
“In hindsight … I wish I had stayed in Toronto,” McGrady said while being interviewed by the Toronto Star. “There’s no doubt we could have contended for a championship. I think about that often.”
While that sounds like a good idea, would it really have made much of a difference?
McGrady had the four best seasons of his career statistically while playing for the team he defected to once he left Toronto, the Orlando Magic.
Playing for Doc Rivers during his time with the Magic, McGrady was unleashed in ways he was never used with the Raptors. Most of it out was of necessity though since he was the only true star during his tenure there.
The Magic did sign Grant Hill during that same summer they added McGrady but injuries kept Hill on the bench a majority of the time McGrady was there. Hill played a total 47 games during the four years McGrady was in a Magic uniform.
McGrady’s cousin, Vince Carter, would have arguably his best season as a pro the year McGrady left him.
Carter averaged a career-best 27.6 points-per-game that season and nearly helped the Raptors advance to the Eastern Conference Finals but he missed the potential game-winning shot. It’s possible having McGrady there could have made the difference but we’ll never know.
Carter would have a hard time staying healthy the next few seasons while McGrady was enjoying the best years of his career statistically in Orlando.
It’s possible that Carter was pressing too much which may have led to some of his injury problems, something that McGrady’s presence could have helped.
McGrady would start having problems with his back towards the end of his tenure in Orlando but McGrady’s injuries aren’t the ones that have caused him so many problems in his career.
Grant Hill’s lingering ankle problems robbed McGrady of a potential superstar that could help him carry the Magic deep into the playoffs. Things didn’t get any better once he was traded to the Houston Rockets.
Upon being traded to Houston, McGrady would face the same expectations that were expected of his potential pairing with Grant Hill upon arriving in Orlando except this time he would be paired with the 7’6” Yao Ming.
Their first season together was good but McGrady once again failed to make it out of the first round despite pushing the Dallas Mavericks to a decisive Game 7.
Yao’s foot injuries would be a problem during the rest of McGrady’s tenure in Houston once again making McGrady his team’s only viable superstar come playoff time and successfully keeping him from advancing out of the first round.
McGrady would be traded to the New York Knicks during the 2009-2010 season, his only season in New York. He would then play a season apiece for the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks.
McGrady drew little interest from teams last year before the San Antonio Spurs added him late in the season as insurance for the playoffs. He didn’t play any during the regular season but did appear in six playoff games for the Spurs. Of course they were all garbage minutes.
The Spurs nearly won the NBA Championship last season and although the playoff run represented McGrady’s first time advancing past the first round, it still wasn’t the way a competitor like McGrady wanted to get to the NBA’s championship round.
Although he probably would have been happy receiving a ring if the Spurs had won, it doesn’t seem right that he would have to achieve that goal riding the coattails of a Tim Duncan-led squad and as a footnote to their championship success.
But what if Grant Hill had been healthy? What if Yao’s foot would have held up? As we look back on a career filled with what-ifs, McGrady himself reflects on the one what-if he actually had control over: what if he had stayed in Toronto?
Sadly, we’ll never know.