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Tracy McGrady could save the Pistons season

Although it’s not the only thing we do around here, Dan Feldman and I generally try and use both traditional and advanced statistics (and graphs, in Feldman’s case) when we do any type of analysis.

This isn’t one of those posts.

There is a sound statistical case, based on the fact that Tracy McGrady is second on the Pistons in the Wins Produced behind Ben Wallace (if you’d like to learn more on Wins Produced as the stat relates to the Pistons, check out Ben Gulker’s blog), that McGrady should play more.

But stats aside, I just feel better about the Pistons when McGrady is in the game. I watch more closely. I expect more exciting plays to happen. I expect the pace to be slightly faster. I expect the ball to move more freely.

I’ve made no secrets about that fact that I’ve been a longtime fan of McGrady. The rational side of me knows that there’s no possible way that someone who has dealt with the serious chronic injuries he has can be anywhere near the same player he was in the past. But then McGrady goes out and does things like score 16 points (5-for-9 shooting), with 6 rebounds, 3 assists (one turnover), a steal and a block in 25 minutes and I admittedly get some irrational thoughts popping into my head.

Like, what if McGrady can still be the best player on a good team? Or even the second best player, which would be a major accomplishment considering his age and the nature of his injuries?

McGrady was terrific against Atlanta, and he’s steadily improved all season. The best part about his game is that although he often dominates the ball on offense, he doesn’t do it in a ball-stopping way that a certain unnamed facilitator of the offense does (cough * Tayshaun Prince * cough). He orchestrates things. He finds cutters. He’s a willing passer. He commands the attention of the defense. He sets up good shots for teammates. And the Pistons just look better when he’s out there.

The Pistons have been careful with McGrady, bringing him along slowly, understandably so. But it’s getting to the point where he needs to be unleashed. They need to find out what they have, and I don’t just mean give him minutes to see if he can build some trade value. I mean give him minutes to figure out if he’s worth a two year deal (not for huge money, of course, and contingent on the fact that some other wing players are traded) as a potential starter next season.

It’s weird to advocate an expanded role for him coming off of a game against Atlanta when Rip Hamilton played well and Prince was efficient. But even at their max, we’ve seen what the Pistons are capable of with Hamilton and Prince as their primary options. The ceiling for that team is low.

It’s possible the ceiling for a McGrady-led team is just as low, if not lower. But there’s also the possibility, however remote, that McGrady really is working his way back to being a productive and dynamic NBA starter. The Pistons gave McGrady a minimum deal because really, there was no risk. He’s already been a value with his production in limited minutes. Now it’s time to figure out if there’s a reward for signing him by playing him in a primary role as long as his body holds up.

Of course trading him in the right deal is always a possibility, but a healthy McGrady offers other options as well. Unlike Prince and Hamilton, fans will pay to come out and watch a healthy McGrady even if the team isn’t good. As we saw by the sparse crowd against Atlanta, no one is going to pay to come and watch a bad team with Prince and Hamilton as its faces.

McGrady also offers a redemptive presence for Joe Dumars. Dumars’ series of not good moves over the past few years have been well-documented. Seeing a low risk signing like McGrady pay off with big production would not change the other questionable moves he’s made, but it would certainly be a good bit of karma for a GM who has seen his once sterling reputation as one of the league’s best slowly erode.

This post is probably entirely premature. McGrady has yet to show that he can handle a consistent heavy workload (and by heavy, I mean 25-30 minutes a night, which isn’t exactly Kevin Durant minutes). But the Pistons beat a good team last night and had a dynamic fourth quarter to put the game out of reach, something they have not done much this season, with McGrady as the key player on the floor at the center of that success. At some point, if he keeps playing this way, he’s going to want and deserve to be more than a role player off the bench.


  • Dec 15, 201010:23 am
    by Mike Payne


    Nice write-up Patrick, I’m fully in line with your rationale here.  I was thinking about something while watching last night’s game– can you imagine how stupid many of the league’s GMs are feeling right now?  McGrady worked out for Chicago before he did for Detroit, and that team is in pretty bad need for a guard forward to spell Deng and potentially start at the 2.  The Tracy McGrady of December 15th could have been an excellent fit on so many levels for the Bulls, but they passed.  So did a bunch of other teams.
    Meanwhile, the Pistons sign dude for nothing (thanks to a league-subsidized vet minimum deal, then thanks to the jersey sales in the US and abroad which will pay for the rest), and look at him now.  I was thrilled when this signing happened this summer and had some pretty high hopes for what it could mean for Detroit’s trade market, not so much it’s on-court production.  Thus far, however, this is shaping up to be one of the better story lines of this season.
    Bravo, Joe D.  I hate you for so many more things than I care to count, but this was a really, really solid move.

  • Dec 15, 201010:25 am
    by detroitpcb


    T-Mac has earned more minutes with his play (though i question your statement that the pace is slightly faster – T-Mac will push the ball upcourt with a pass if someone is open but everything else he does on the court is very deliberate, but deliberate with purposeful intelligence). I too think the Pistons are a much better team with T-Mac on the floor. I suspect he will be traded before the deadline. But say the Pistons could trade Rip & Tay. A lineup of Stuckey, T-Mac, Austin Daye, Greg Monroe and Ben Wallace plus(Zach Randolph, Kevin Love, Josh Smith – fill in your favorite big man) would look pretty good and if T-Mac was willing to take reasonable money – i would give him a two year deal. Highly unlikely though.

  • Dec 15, 201011:14 am
    by Laser


    there’s a lot to question here:
    1) ok let’s assume we keep the guy and he stays healthy. how far can he take us? my guess is “not very.” there are 6 teams in the east that figure to be a force for at least the next few years, so you have to ask yourself if it’s reasonable that we can be highly competitive with t-mac. i doubt it. a safe guess puts us at a 6-7 seed if we’re lucky, and that means a likely first-round exit. the alternative, a trade that nets us a young player or draft pick is more appealing to me, because i’d prefer sustainable improvement. there’s a reason there are “buyers” and “sellers” at the deadline, and face it: we’d be smart to sell right now.
    (one thing this season has illuminated for me is that there is a STARK contrast between the best interests of the fans and the best interests of the ownership. there may be some overlap, but their priorities don’t align with ours. being “somewhat” relevant and making the playoffs for a few years would be a BOON for the organization at this time, but i think it’s short-sighted.)
    2) we don’t have t-mac’s bird rights. he can go wherever he wants. i wouldn’t even hold it against him if he showed the pistons and dumars no loyalty whatsoever; he’s in the twilight of his career, so he wants to win and wants one last big payday. we can’t reasonably offer either. joe dumars seems to have forgotten that this is a BUSINESS. something tells me t-mac won’t forget. this may be the most important of my points, even though it’s #2. best to keep it professional and realistic and move the guy somewhere else.
    3) there’s the little matter of those wing players you suggest we trade. it’s a little too big and vague of an “if” for me. who are these guys? rip? tayshaun? assuming we unload one of our wing players, nobody on the team is a better candidate than t-mac by a long shot. realistically, we’ve got to move at least two wings. jerebko’s coming back, daye’s out of the rotation. you get the idea. we need to trade some wings so badly it hurts, and it hasn’t happened yet. i’ll believe it when i see it, and i suspect t-mac will be involved. all i’ve heard the last few years are promises of moving perimeter assets for help up front, and t-mac is one of the few “assets” we have.
    chicago’s first rounder (or something) would be a pretty good get. rather than taking the chance that for some reason t-mac’s heart will grow to the size of a house, like the grinch on christmas, and what figures to be his last big contract will amount to a modest two-year deal to come and lose games with the guys who gave him a shot when nobody else would. get real. he’ll take money and/or a chance to win, and he’ll probably demand a contract that lasts as long as he plans on playing (so… three minimum? maybe he’d ask for five, though i don’t suppose he’ll get it.) and nobody will blame him. nobodyy.
    the incidentals: A) i bet jersey sales WAY more than took care of that guy’s contract. B) the hawks are a good team, but they sure as hell weren’t “good” last night, so i’d hesitate to say they beat a good team unless you add the caveat that it was an off night for them. i’ll be the first to admit that the pistons could beat a lot of teams the way they played last night, but the hawks laid an egg.

  • Dec 15, 201011:19 am
    by DoctorDaveT.com


    Hey, PP,
    signing TMac to a “reasonable” two year deal is a near impossibility. Here’s why:
    1) he took this “only offer — low ball contract – vet’s minimum” only because no one thought he could play ever again
    2) if he can play, he’s worth WAY more than vet minimum
    3) if he can’t play, he’s worthless at any price
    As of today, 12/15/2010, TMac CAN play and is making Chicago (and every other contender) looking foolish for passing him up. Do you think that will happen at the end of this contract?
    If TMac can play (and it sure looks like he can; I’ll concede I was partly wrong when the trade happened; partly because we still have way too many wings on this flight), he won’t want to be part of a rebuild, if he can play for a contender. (Imagine him back in Orlando. Or Chicago. Or Boston. Or LA. Or….) So a “reasonable resigning” just isn’t going to happen.
    TMac’s best value to JoeD is a trade to a contender. They’ll want TMac; in order to get him, they have to take _____________ too. (The blank can be filled in with whatever boatanchor contract you can get rid of. Rip? BG?) In return, we either accumulate draft picks, young stars glued to the bench of contending teams, or cap space (although that’s not my favorite option.)
    TMac & Rip for a young C/PF (or a true PG?) tied to the bench of a contender? Or even barely cracking it’s rotation? What Detroit fan wouldn’t want to do that?
    We’re not looking for All-Stars; we’re looking for potential all-stars. When you’re rebuilding, that’s how it is.

  • Dec 15, 201011:52 am
    by vic


    I”d be sad to see TMac leave, because I know he’s a very valuable player who can not only score but facilitate and defend…

    If he had to go, he’d have to go with Rip, for 2 bigs, or 1 big + one 1st round draft pick of a non-playoff team.

    If I’m Joe D I’m not giving 2 championship level players to a championship level team in return for a scrub with potential and a late teen/twenty something draft pick. At the very least, the other team would have to give up a quality big man that actually plays significant minutes.

    Zach Randolph, Kevin Love, Josh Smith… that type of guy.

  • Dec 15, 201012:23 pm
    by Laser


    @doctordave: i don’t think anyone’s going to take on a bad contract for t-mac. i think it’s a one-time gamble type of situation. a mid-first rounder is worth the risk if you think, like chicago (or someone) might, t-mac can seriously help your chances this season, but i don’t think it’s realistic to expect anyone to continue to pay for that rental for years to come, in the form of an overpaid veteran on a multi-year deal. usually those contracts get moved when tied to a productive young player on his rookie contract (see: darren collison and james posey going from OKC to IND). it just makes more sense, because the combined contracts basically even out. i don’t see anyone paying for a few months of t-mac by absorbing 2.5 years of rip at $12.650 per. you gotta be realistic here. hayes needs to be realistic too, but a draft pick or young player is the reasonable get for t-mac.

  • Dec 15, 201012:27 pm
    by Laser


    @vic: if you think rip and t-mac could fetch z-bo, kevin love or josh smith, you need to be rushed to the hospital right now and get checked out because something is seriously wrong. don’t drive yourself, it’s too dangerous. call 911 immediately, or at least call a friend or a cab. this is a serious emergency. don’t take it lightly!

  • Dec 15, 201011:49 pm
    by Jason


    Been saying it for weeks -
    Put Stuckey and Prince to the bench.
    Run the offense through Mcgrady, and switch to normal positions on defense.

  • Dec 16, 20102:06 am
    by Laser


    eh. i actually like monroe and big ben up front with charlie off the bench. and i can’t imagine moving tayshaun to the bench for any reason ever. love to see t-mac starting. love to see a lot of things, like a trade that frees up room for daye to play. wouldn’t mind bynum getting some time too, but not in a spotty less-than-backup PG role.

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