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July 15, 2004

T-Mac will help Rockets lift off in the West

by Michael Bushnell, Page Editor
Tracy McGrady led the NBA in scoring last season, albeit on a last place team in Orlando. Following the season, he let it be known that if the Magic did not put more talent around him, that he would opt out after next season and become an unrestricted free agent. And despite the probable return of Grant Hill for next year, Pat Garrity’s definite return as a viable long-range threat and the number one draft pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft, GM John Weisbrod didn’t want to risk seeing McGrady leave for nothing, similar to Shaquille O’Neal’s departure eight years ago.

So Weisbrod and the Magic brass got something for a superstar, dealing McGrady, Juwan Howard, Tyronn Lue and Reece Gaines to Houston for Silver Spring native Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley and Kelvin Cato. The deal gives Houston two of the best ten players in the NBA, (something Francis never was) including the NBA’s leading scorer.

What makes McGrady even deadlier in Houston is coach Jeff Van Gundy’s insistence to run the offense through 7’5" center Yao Ming, the best passing big man in the league. With Yao’s uncanny ability to find any of the other four men on the court at any time, McGrady stands to be able to get the ball when he’s open nearly 100% of the time. He is an excellent player off the ball, and unlike last season where he led the league in scoring with 28 PPG despite being constantly double teamed, he will now have talent to work with, enabling him to get free more often and use his outstanding shooting touch.

Plus there is the age factor. McGrady has just turned 25, while Francis is 28. While Francis is still young and in his athletic prime, one must remember that Orlando, with their pick of high schooler Dwight Howard #1 overall in last Thursday’s NBA Draft, has shown they are in a long rebuilding period. By the time Orlando is ready to win, Francis will be 30 or 31.

That said, the Magic weren't ripped off in this trade. Cuttino Mobley and Steve Francis were one of the best tandems in the league last season. Mobley is a smart team player and a good inside-outside athlete. If he gets enough shots, he has the potential to be an All-Star in the mold of Michael Redd of the Eastern Conference. Kelvin Cato is a solid bench player, and with 6’11" Dwight Howard now on the Magic, Cato can continue to get minutes off the pine like he did in Houston. The deal works for Orlando’s rebuilding plan, and in a weak Southeast division (with Charlotte, Atlanta, Miami and Washington), they could compete sooner than most think.

While landing McGrady undoubtedly improves the title chances of the Rockets for this season and especially beyond that, the road to the Larry O’ Brien trophy is far from easy. First of all, Houston finds themselves playing next year in the newly formed Southwest division, where all five teams made the 2004 Playoffs. Also, there are major questions about whether or not Tyronn Lue could run the point for a serious contender. Nobody can question Lue’s effort and hustle, but they can question his size and his ability to play against Southwest division guards Jason Williams, Steve Nash, Tony Parker and Baron Davis, three of which are former all stars. However, there is also a very high chance that Houston will land Derek Fisher to run the offense, taking care of that issue.

McGrady is the most prolific scorer in the league, and can score from anywhere on the court. The trade makes Houston immediately better for next year, and with McGrady enthusiastic about signing a long-term deal, the Rockets will have many years to bring the title back to Southeastern Texas. From a financial standpoint, owner Les Alexander now has a stunning new arena and a great product on court - which could make the Rockets the toast of the town in a football-crazed city. Even in the rough-and-tumble Western Conference, this trade ensures that the Rockets have all the pieces necessary to give the city of Houston their first major sports title in over a decade.

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  • Robert (View Email) on July 15, 2004
    First off I would like to say it was a well-written article. I don’t agree with you when you say Yao is a top ten player in the league. He is a good play with a lot of upside but he is still to young and passive to be considered top ten. I worried about McGrady in Van Gundy’s offense. He will not get the touches he needs to put up big numbers. As you said the offense will run through the big man and I think Tracy might struggle like Francis did. The age factor doesn’t really apply here because nobody knows how Tracy’s back will hold up. Expect Francis and Mobley to have great years on a team that will play there up and down street style of game. The Magic might not win a lot during this rebuild stage but expect to see some amazing highlights from the two high flying guards.
  • Michael Bushnell (View Email) on July 17, 2004
    Thanks for reading and enjoying the column. Mobley and Francis are very, very good, but one thing that concerned me while they were in Houston, that I didnt really convey here, was that they really took a lot of shots from Yao, who I do think is a top-ten, or at least top 15 in the NBA. It's not just about McGrady, its about the intangibles he brings that Francis didnt that will make Houston a better team.
  • Michael Bushnell (View Email) on July 17, 2004
    Oh, and another note: Nash is no longer with Dallas and in the Southwest division, as he was when I wrote this. He signed a $65 million deal with Phoenix on Wednesday.
  • M. L. on July 22, 2004
    T-Mac is a ballhog, so Orlando will bid him good riddance. Now with their rebuffed team, Orlando will win the Championships.

    (Well, they'll be better than the Wizkids anyways)
  • Michael Bushnell (View Email) on July 22, 2004
    ML, i think you might be on to something. But then again, who was TMac gonna give the ball to last year besides Juwan Howard?
  • Michael Bushnell (View Email) on July 23, 2004
    Then again, Orlando might not even win the championship for best team in Orlando. My bet is on the University of Central Florida.
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