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Questions, injuries still nag McGrady

TRACY McGRADYNagged by injuries TRACY McGRADYNagged by injuries
By Marc J. Spears
Globe Staff / November 4, 2008
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Saint Kitts and Nevis, the two-island nation in the West Indies, have many attractions to help tourists escape the stresses of home. Visitors can tour the nation on its renowned Sugar Cane Railroad and enjoy the tropical forests, beaming sun, white-sand beaches, and countless music celebrations.

But even with all that, Tracy McGrady was fixated instead on a TV on a yacht last spring as the Celtics clinched their first NBA championship in 22 years. And when his good friend Kevin Garnett screamed, "Anything is possible!" the Houston Rockets star felt the same way.

"I felt all of it. I felt every minute, every second of it, absolutely," said McGrady, whose teams have never advanced past the first round of the playoffs. "K is my man. We're both with Adidas and I'm around him a lot. We talk. I just know some of the things that he's been through. I'm kind of in those shoes.

"I can only imagine when that time comes. You take so much criticism through the years. It's your fault. But when your time finally comes and you shut everybody up, it's your time. You let the emotions out."

No one can question that McGrady is a poten tial Hall of Famer. The seven-time All-Star has averaged 22.3 points in his 12-year career, is a three-time All-NBA first-team selection, and was the 2001 Most Improved Player. He has the fourth-highest scoring average in playoff history at 28.5 points per game, behind Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson, and Jerry West.

Yet even with all of that hardwood success, the big knock against McGrady is that he has not been past the first round of the playoffs. While playing for coach Doc Rivers in Orlando in 2003, McGrady was quoted as saying it would be great to "finally be in the second round" after the Magic took a 3-1 series lead over Detroit. However, the Pistons won three straight to claim the series.

McGrady was overcome with emotion when the Rockets were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs two years ago, and again last season when they were missing Yao Ming.

"I'm pretty content with what I've accomplished to this point," he said. "I wish there could be some things that could be different, but it is what it is."

Now the Rockets are hoping to blast off toward the franchise's third championship, as they acquired talented yet troubled forward Ron Artest via trade in August. The addition gives them their own version of "The Big Three."

The rejuvenated Rockets (3-0) host the Celtics tonight in Houston in what could be a preview of the NBA Finals.

"Adding Ron to this team was real big with what he brings to us offensively and defensively," McGrady said. "There is toughness that he brings out and competitive spirit on the basketball court that unites your team in so many ways. That's what we were lacking the last couple years, being without Yao, just having somebody else you could rely on, not just myself and Yao.

"But now having Ron and the depth we have on our team, I don't see why we can't be one of the best if we're a healthy team."

Whether the Rockets can be a healthy team physically and mentally is a big question mark.

They definitely don't need any drama from the oft-troubled Artest, but it is always a possibility with him. They need Yao, Shane Battier, and Rafer Alston to stay healthy, too. But for the Rockets to put up their first championship banner since 1995, a healthy McGrady on his All-NBA level is a must.

"We are going to go as far as I take it," McGrady said. "If I'm healthy, I'm almost positive that good things will happen for this team."

McGrady, 29, hasn't played more than 71 games in any of the past three seasons. He missed 16 contests last season, and had surgery in May to clear loose tissue in his left shoulder and left knee, then missed most of the preseason because of a left leg injury.

"Injuries have affected his whole career," Rivers said. "I remember a day we were practicing and he took his shirt off, and I said, 'Boy, you are going to have a bad back.' It's the curvature in his back. He started laughing and, I swear, about a month later, his back went out."

While the 6-foot-8-inch, 230-pounder said he feels fine now, he acknowledged that his body has a tough time making it through an entire season.

"When people talk about my injuries, it's not like I go out there and miss a month or two out of the season," McGrady said. "It's just nagging injuries. My body is really not built for 82 games. I have a slight case of scoliosis in my back. With that, it triggers a lot of things in my body.

"But when my team needs me, which is down the NBA stretch and in the playoffs, I never missed a playoff game. I'm always there when they need me."

In an NBATV commercial currently airing, Garnett is shown going through countless media interviews last season before things culminate with a championship and Garnett exclaims, "What are they gonna say now?"

Just as he did on that yacht in the West Indies, McGrady takes Garnett's words as motivation that his day will come, too, a feeling that is reinforced every time that ad airs.

"When I'm sitting at home watching TV, I just go to smiling when I see that commercial," he said. "I try to picture myself having that feeling."

Marc J. Spears can be reached at mspears@globe.com

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