Tracy McGrady is a Hall of Famer. Despite his lack of playoff success and injury-riddled history, McGrady was still inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017.
Though some may see that as a cap to a wonderful NBA career, there are many unanswered ‘what-ifs’ when it comes to McGrady’s career.
What if he never suffered from injuries throughout his career? What if he and Yao Ming remained healthy together in Houston? What if Orlando was able to build around him properly? What if he never left Vince Carter and the Toronto Raptors? Another ‘what-if’... what if he chose another destination to play other than the Orlando Magic when he made his decision to leave the Toronto Raptors? That is the question we will be addressing in this article.
McGrady’s induction into the Hall of Fame came with much backlash and hate as many fans saw McGrady as a ‘Hall of Very Good’ caliber player. Most fans recognize that McGrady was one of the league’s best players for a period of time; leading the league in scoring twice, being a 7x All-Star, and 7x All-NBA selection. For the better half of a decade, 2000-2008 to be specific, McGrady was one of the league’s most versatile, electric players.
McGrady’s peak years were with the Orlando Magic between ‘00-’01 and ‘03-’04. In those 4 years, McGrady averaged 28.1 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game. He also managed to play about 90% of the Magic’s games in those years, only missing 33 games in 4 seasons. Through 3 playoff runs, McGrady did his part averaging 32.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.2 blocks. Still, the Magic never made it out of the 1st round. The team simply was never able to build around the budding superstar, which ultimately led to McGrady demanding a trade after the team went 21-61.
This '4-year stretch going to waste' could have been avoided. McGrady had his reasons for wanting out of the Toronto Raptors. Though we all wish he would have stayed and allowed us to witness a future with him and Vince Carter dominating opposing wings, it was unlikely that the Raptors Front Office would have been able to convince him that they were heading in the right direction.
Though McGrady chose the Orlando Magic as his desired sign-and-trade destination, there were several other teams interested in acquiring McGrady (even before his trade demands in 2000).
Let’s take a look back at some of those teams and what could’ve been of McGrady’s career had he chosen elsewhere.
Chicago Bulls (1997)
Deal: Tracy McGrady for Scottie Pippen
The Chicago Bulls come in as the most relevant ‘what-if’ destination for McGrady. Briefly spoken about in the documentary ‘The Last Dance’, then-Bulls GM Jerry Krause was looking to rebuild by trading away star forward Scottie Pippen. The deal would be shot down by superstar wing Michael Jordan, preventing McGrady from pairing with arguably the best player of all-time. The Bulls made a wise decision in the short-term as they finished that season winning their 3rd championship in a row (6 rings in 8 years).
Who knows, maybe this deal would have also kept Jordan around the Bulls longer. The Bulls went into full rebuild mode the following season, not reaching the playoffs for 6 years straight. With McGrady, Jordan may have not retired. He would have a reason to be optimistic about the team’s immediate future as he started to exit his prime.
As for McGrady, this deal would have entirely re-shaped his career. Playing with Jordan may have helped fine-tune McGrady’s game. He may have become a better/willing defender than what he exhibited in prime years in Orlando and Houston. Jordan would be passing the torch to McGrady, as long as he wasn’t upset with the organization for trading away his long-time friend/teammate Pippen.
McGrady would have ushered in the next Bulls era, helping them rebuild a lot quicker., but may have also prevented them from 3-peating for a 2nd time. A huge ‘what-if’ that would have helped McGrady more so than the Bulls organization.
Los Angeles Lakers (1997)
Deal: Tracy McGrady for Eddie Jones
In 1996, the Los Angeles Lakers traded away 27-year old C Vlade Divac to the Charlotte Hornets for newly drafted, straight out of High School, Kobe Bryant. The Lakers made this deal knowing that they’d be landing future Hall of Fame C Shaquille O’Neal. The following off-season, former GM Jerry West flirted with the idea of trading for another straight out of High School wing player in Tracy McGrady.
However, at the time, Lakers owner Jerry Buss was reluctant to deal away veteran wing Eddie Jones for another High School prospect, in fear that it would hurt the developments of Shaq and Kobe.
If the Lakers were to pull the trigger on this deal, it would have been the biggest possible win for McGrady’s career. Though he may not have become an offensive juggernaut as we saw in Orlando, McGrady may have become a perennial winner.
Shaq and Kobe were enough to create a dynasty in LA; imagine if they were able to also add McGrady.
The organization may have had a continued dynasty post-Shaq with Kobe and McGrady, or maybe Shaq would have stayed. One thing is certain, this ‘what-if’ would have added several NBA Championships to McGrady’s resume, boosting his career rankings amongst the greats.
Philadelphia 76ers (1999)
Deal: Tracy McGrady and a 1st Round Pick for Larry Hughes
A few weeks ago, Stephen A. Smith confirmed that the Toronto Raptors backed out of a deal in December 1999 that would have sent McGrady and a 1st Round Pick to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for Larry Hughes. That was a huge blow for the 76ers and a huge win for the Raptors. The Raptors avoided losing a future All-Star as well as a 1st round pick for Hughes, who had a solid yet underwhelming career.
A few months after the deal fell through, the 76ers would deal Hughes and 2 other players for aging forward, Toni Kukoc. Kukoc didn’t provide the 76ers with the sustained help they desired, as they dealt Kukoc away the following season.
Kukoc was a key piece in the deal that landed Dikembe Mutombo in Philadelphia, but he could’ve been replaced by another wing such as George Lynch, Tyrone Hill, or Jumaine Jones. Either of those 3 players may have been enough to complete the package in a deal for Mutombo. Mutombo was a needed addition that resulted in the 76ers Finals run in ‘00-’01. Having McGrady instead of Kukoc may have helped them stand a chance against the ‘Shaq and Kobe’ Lakers that year, instead of being eliminated in 5 games. Even if the team lost that Finals against the Lakers, McGrady and Allen Iverson would have formed one of the league’s most dynamic pairings.
Both players were capable of taking over a game offensively, in their primes. We would have witnessed 2 All-Time scorers together, terrorizing wing defenders for years. The pairing would have been surrounded by stout defenders with Mutombo, Eric Snow, Aaron McKie, and several others. Yet another ‘what-if’ we wish we could have seen.
Miami Heat (2000)
Deal: Tracy McGrady for a Future 1st Round Pick
The Orlando Magic were able to acquire McGrady for a 2005 1st round pick. That was it. That’s all it took to get him away from the Raptors in 2000 after McGrady hinted at no desire to re-sign with the team. So expecting the Heat to acquire McGrady for the same deal is very possible.
McGrady chose the Magic as his desired destination largely in part to the Magic also signing Grant Hill that off-season. Hill was coming off a 6-year run with the Detroit Pistons where he seemed to be the next big superstar in the NBA. Unfortunately for Hill, McGrady, and the Orlando Magic, he would suffer a career-altering ankle injury in his 1st season with the Magic.
The Heat, at the time, were coming off of a 52-30 season that ended in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. The Heat had an interesting pitch to lure McGrady (which you can see here: Clutch Points). Miami had the surrounding roster capable of helping McGrady win games.
McGrady may actually have been the missing pierce keeping them from winning a title, or at least making deeper playoff runs.
Landing McGrady may have prevented the organization from dealing away veteran SF Jamal Mashburn.
The team would have a core of Tim Hardaway, McGrady, Mashburn, and Alonzo Mourning. Even if they proceeded with the Mashburn deal, Hardaway, McGrady, and Mourning would still be a stout core with Eddie Jones and Anthony Mason (the main trade pieces acquired via the Mashburn deal).
This ‘what-if’ would have been another sure-fire way for McGrady to improve his career resume.
What-ifs Are Only What-ifs
McGrady, unfortunately, did not land in any of these destinations in his prime years. Instead, he spent his 4 best years in Orlando and 5 and a half injury-riddled yet solid years in Houston.
No one truly knows what Tracy McGrady would have been if he landed elsewhere. He put together a solid Hall of Fame-worthy career despite the lack of sustained help around him and the injuries that plagued him (and his teammates) later in his prime. We can only speculate how his career would have played out if he went to other organizations.
With the Bulls, it may have eventually become the Orlando Magic situation all-over again with Jordan on his way out. Or they may have been able to build another dynasty with McGrady at the helm.
With the Lakers, he would have been added to a dynasty-in-the-making with Shaq and Kobe, but can’t be sure what role he’d claim if he remained with the team.
With the 76ers, him and Iverson would be a scary, dynamic tandem but it’s no guarantee that they’d be able to win a ring against the Western Conference teams like the Lakers and San Antonio Spurs. And with the Heat, the team would feature a top-tier starting lineup but what would be their ceiling? Would the players fit well together or would other deals be needed?
Thankfully for us and Tracy McGrady, none of these ‘what-ifs’ stood between him and a Hall of Fame career. We were still able to witness one of the greatest one-man shows in NBA history over an 8-year span.