The Give and Go
By Charlie Zegers and Chris Liss
RotoWire Staff Writers
Subject: Give and Go
Date: January 7, 2008 11:03 AM PDT
I continue to be shocked at how badly I misjudged the Rockets this season.
As we've discussed, I really thought that Rick Adelman's more open system would play to the strengths of Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming and allow those two guys to blend in a way they never did under Jeff Van Gundy's defense-first regime. But the more Rockets stories I read, the more I get the impression that McGrady might not want to co-exist with the big guy. The latest rumors say he's pushing for a trade; a topic which has become the subject of much mockery in at least one NBA locker room. (Thanks, TrueHoop.)
My take: the one factor that might be most crucial to a pro athlete's success is also the toughest one for an outsider to judge.
I won't call it "heart." I don't want to make it sound like I think McGrady's a bad guy. I don't know the man. And I don't want to play amateur psychologist and try to figure out why McGrady (and others) seem most comfortable as the big fish in a small pond. Personality seems like a better term. The best players seem to have that incredibly competitive "type A" personality. One that probably makes them fairly unpleasant to be around a lot of the time. One that probably leads to a pretty fair number of busted marriages and gambling problems. (See Jordan, Michael.)
I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want a guy consumed by winning marrying my daughter. But it'd be nice to have him running the point for my favorite basketball team. (Or quarterback for the Jets.)
You follow Houston a lot closer than I do... what do you think? Does McGrady really want out? Can he go somewhere else and be successful? Or is he going to be another player who never hits the heights that we all thought he'd hit? Are there any other players you can think of that might be held back by their own personalities?
I can think of several who play their home games at 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue... but I didn't want to make this yet another Knicks rant. I will say that I still don't have any takers for Marbury in NBA Live... but I was able to pawn off Jared Jeffries, so my rebuilding efforts haven't been a complete waste.
Subject: Re: Give and Go
Date: January 7, 2008 2:17 PM PDT
I'm a bit biased because I'm a huge McGrady fan - he's certainly not the Jordan/Kobe type that you described above, but he's got as much talent as either one. Is his more laid-back personality holding him back? Well, that and the injuries. But I'd even argue that injuries themselves are an outgrowth of personality - not that Kobe can't sprain his ankle, but the amount of offseason weight-lifting and conditioning that he does make him less prone to it. Also, players tend to get hurt when they're fatigued, and conditioning is the best weapon against that. Finally, I think injuries sometimes occur because players don't respond quickly enough when that ankle starts to roll or the knee starts to twist. The more alert and more focused on living to fight another day you are, the more quickly you can pull your leg out of that dangerous spot, or shift your weight quickly. I don't think it's a coincidence that the hardest working players in many sports (Jordan, Kobe, LaDainian Tomlinson, Jerry Rice) are often the most durable. Those competitive nuts never tire of the fight, and I'd argue that they instinctively avoid injury better than the natural talents who are slightly less fanatical.
McGrady's laid back, and from covering the Rockets the last few years, I'd say probably a little bit smarter than those other guys. Perhaps he has too much perspective and therefore lacks their single-minded devotion. I'd be surprised if he has any problem with Yao per se - Yao is by all accounts easy to get along with. But Yao might not be the easiest guy to play with. He's not going to finish on the fast break, he's not a great defender and while he's decent at passing out of the post, he's no Brad Miller or Vlade Divac. Yao slows down the offense and makes it more static. He's such a high percentage shooter from the floor and the line that you absolutely have to get him the ball, but maybe he'd be better on the Spurs or the '90s Knicks where you had role players, defenders, rebounders and three-point shooters to complement him.
The Rockets haven't shot the ball well enough from outside (though Aaron Brooks, who can shoot the three, is starting to get more run), and McGrady's slash-to-the-rim style is in less demand when the offense runs through Yao. So that's more likely the problem.
The Rockets seem to be playing better without McGrady because there's less confusion. And the other guys know their roles better. With Both McGrady and Yao on the floor, their teammates sometimes stand around too much.
The Rockets probably should trade McGrady, though it's unclear what they'd get for an injury-prone player who's best days are likely behind him. The team could use more of a pure shooter (Kevin Martin or Michael Redd would be perfect), but you have to wonder who would be available. Maybe Ben Gordon would work since Chicago needs scoring, but they'd need to throw in some other players to make it work cap-wise.
Other players who don't have the killer instinct? I would have said Yao, but he's gotten better on that front. Maybe, Amare Stoudamire is another one. He's such a great talent, but I'm not sure he'll ever bring the focus necessary to be in the Duncan-Garnett-Karl Malone class of big men.
Subject: Give and Go
Date: January 7, 2008 5:33 PM PDT
Maybe Allen Iverson belongs in that Jordan/Kobe/LT group of guys who can avoid injuries via sheer willpower. Iverson is actually, in my mind, the most amazing of the bunch. Here's a guy that weighs about 165 pounds soaking wet, who's make a career out of driving the lane, and who's never had a major injury. That's just remarkable.
But I'd be more inclined to think of the personality/injuries connection the other way around. I think there are a number of players -- Dwyane Wade being the biggest top-of-mind example -- whose competitiveness actually becomes a detriment. Wade is so physical, so willing to give up his body to make a play that nagging injuries just seem inevitable. Right now he's dealing with a bum shoulder and jammed finger -- and that's on top of the injuries to his other shoulder and his knee from last season, that really haven't mended completely. I worry that he's headed towards a McGrady-esque "60 games per year, tops" type career as a result. Same goes for Manu Ginobili.
Subject: Re: Give and Go
Date: January 8, 2008 7:15 PM PDT
Iverson is a superhero of sorts, and though he's had some nagging injuries, it's true that he's remarkably resilient. But even if Wade gets hurt because he's so aggressive, Kobe's no less aggressive in driving to the basket himself and far more durable. Some of it could be body type, but Bryant is just a mentally and physically tough guy.
That said, Ginobili and Wade absolutely have the killer instinct at the end of games in terms of hitting the big shots, and in that sense their personalities are just fine. But I think McGrady's a team guy as well, just that his talents are better suited to playing with a Jason Kidd (like his cousin does) than in a half-court set with Yao. Even Kobe disliked playing with Shaq, but had to suck it up because they were winning titles.
Article first appeared on 1/9/08