Greatest Of Zzzz's
Only 21, sleep-happy Tracy McGrady is carrying the Magic and
making it look easy
The high-speed evolution of 21-year-old Tracy McGrady further
accelerated on Feb. 20, when he threw down a career-high 44
points on a mix of three-pointers, midrange leaners and
shot-out-of-a-cannon dunks. When the buzzer sounded, however,
McGrady stood alone--stooped over, hands on knees--because his
three missed free throws in the final minute had helped hand the
Suns a 110-104 victory, snapping the Magic's nine-game winning
streak. "It's like being thrown to the wolves," McGrady said of
having to shoulder so much of the load for Orlando.
"[Everyone's] saying, Let's see if the young guy can handle the
His response: "Bring it--I'll carry the team if I have to." Never
mind the occasional mistake. Orlando had no idea it would get so
much for its money when it signed McGrady to a seven-year, $93
million contract last summer. In his first season as a full-time
starter, thrust into the leadership role vacated by the injured
Grant Hill, the 6'8" McGrady was averaging 26.9 points on 45.5%
shooting at week's end, with 7.6 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.57
blocks and 1.51 steals. With support from point guard Darrell
Armstrong and rookie swingman Mike Miller, he had also lifted the
Magic's record to the sixth-best mark in the Eastern Conference
(28-26), despite a four-game skid.
"You can argue that we're the only team doing well with only one
All-Star," says Orlando coach Doc Rivers. "Then you look at
him--at age 21 he's carrying the burden for the sixth-youngest
team in the league." Being young and supremely talented is not as
easy as McGrady makes it look, Rivers adds: "His body is still
maturing. That's why he sleeps so much. You turn off the lights
for a film session, and he's out."
Almost overnight the Big Sleep (as his teammates call McGrady)
has emerged as "one of the top five talents in the league,"
according to Bucks general manager Ernie Grunfeld. After serving
as a complement to Vince Carter for the last two years with the
Raptors, McGrady seemed destined to play a similar role for Hill
this season. "I thought he was going to be like Scottie Pippen,"
says Rivers. "But Tracy scores too much. I don't try to compare
him to somebody now."
When Hill returns next fall after the second operation on his
left ankle, he might often be the second option. "I'm at the
point where I want to win, and Tracy is as well, so we'll leave
the bickering to the other teams," says Hill. Among the more
credible believers in their potential synergy is Pippen. "The
combination is going to be great--similar to when Michael and I
played together," he says. Ask Pippen whom he would choose
between McGrady and Carter, and he says, "I'd take Tracy. I like
his ability to do more things with the ball."
McGrady is not as spectacular as his cousin Vince, but give him
time. When McGrady grabs a rebound and dunks in one leap, the
feat seems as effortless as if he were standing on a ladder.
"Scoring is easy," McGrady says. "It's easy because there are
guys who really don't want to play defense, and I know why. They
don't want to get in foul trouble. They want to stay on the
court. I don't respect guys who play that way. They score 25 but
let their man hit them for 30."
At the beginning of the year the Magic planned to plant Hill or
McGrady in the post and take advantage of the nightly mismatches.
When it became clear after 15 games that Hill wasn't coming back
this season, Rivers installed a motion offense around McGrady,
who has brought out the best in many of his teammates. Armstrong
earned Player of the Week honors in February, and the
sharpshooting Miller averaged 15.2 points during the team's
recent winning streak.
Though Rivers knows he can ask only so much of a player who would
be a senior in college, he continues to demand more aggressive
defense and better passes out of the double team from McGrady.
Since returning from his All-Star Game debut, McGrady has resumed
lifting weights on off days, which he hopes will help maintain
his strength into May. "He's still learning to play hard every
night," Armstrong says. "Some guys don't like to take on the
responsibility of carrying a team, but I know he does."
As McGrady answered questions after the Phoenix loss--an interview
that many elder stars would have blown off, given the missed free
throws--he was joined in the locker room by his 16-year-old
half-brother, Chance, who has the same father as Tracy. Chance
has been living with Tracy since last summer while Chance's
mother, who resides in Auburndale, Fla., undergoes treatment for
cancer. Tracy sees that he attends school every day and even
checks his homework. At night they take a little fishing boat out
on the lake behind Tracy's house and look for small alligators.
"You shine a bright light on them, and their eyes glow and they
don't move at all," Tracy says. "They stay right there because
Just as the playoffs defined his friend Kobe Bryant as a big-time
player, so too will they offer McGrady an opportunity to validate
his stature in the league. Like Bryant, he likely will stumble in
the postseason before he succeeds. But McGrady isn't thinking
long-term; he has an immediate goal. "The Finals, man," he says.
"The East is up for grabs."
There's no sense telling him that such a goal is probably beyond
his team's reach--not when he has reached so high already.
The Mutombo Trade
Hawks Think Outside the Box
Atlanta president Stan Kasten keeps an intriguing handwritten
list on a grease board in his office. It begins with the starting
five of the 1985-86 champion Celtics: Larry Bird, Kevin McHale,
Robert Parish, Danny Ainge, Dennis Johnson. "Each of those
players was acquired in a unique, gutsy, risky, bold way," Kasten
The rest of the list reinforces Kasten's contention that teams
often obtain the most helpful players in the least likely
fashion. NBA stalwarts like Vlade Divac and Sarunas Marciulionis
came from Eastern Europe. Steve Kerr and Dennis Rodman were
improbable role players who helped the Bulls win NBA titles. The
list even includes the NFL's Roger Staubach, who was drafted even
though he could not play for several years.
Pete Babcock, Atlanta's G.M., exhibited Kasten's brand of
creative thinking last Thursday when he made a six-player swap
hours before the trading deadline, sending Dikembe Mutombo to the
76ers for Theo Ratliff, who could be out for the season with a
broken right wrist, and Toni Kukoc. Since last August, Babcock
had spent several hours every day plotting moves involving the
7'2" Mutombo, who can become a free agent after this season.
"If you would ask me to put together a list like Stan's, it would
include gambles that didn't work," says Babcock. "One of those
names would be J.R. Rider." Babcock sent Steve Smith to Portland
for Rider in August 1999, and that season ended Atlanta's run of
seven straight playoff seasons and resulted in the resignation of
coach Lenny Wilkens. The further unraveling of the Hawks over the
last two months also persuaded Mutombo that he wouldn't re-sign
with Atlanta this summer.
Babcock's trade of Mutombo yielded intriguing possibilities. In
the 6'10" Ratliff the Hawks got a shot-blocking All-Star center
who, at 27, will be a better fit with their young cast than the
34-year-old Mutombo. The 6'11" Kukoc, 32, should help Atlanta cut
down on its league-worst 17.2 turnovers per game. "We hope to run
a lot of our offense through Kukoc," Babcock says. "Nobody has
done that with him."
Kasten had a laugh when he okayed the trade. Looking at the list
on his office wall, he saw Kukoc's name, just below Divac's.
Hot Route for Coaches
The Mike over The Clipboard
Eddie Johnson, who retired in 1999 after a 17-year career as a
high-scoring forward, is following a relatively new path in
pursuit of his goal to become a head coach. Johnson turned down
opportunities to work as an assistant because he believed he
could realize his ambition more quickly by analyzing NBA games on
Johnson points out that Pat Riley, Doc Rivers and Isiah Thomas
were TV announcers with no coaching experience when they took
over teams. "Every time I do a game on TV, I feel like I'm
interviewing for a job," says Johnson, 41, who is works Suns
games on TV and radio. Johnson appreciates that many of his games
are aired nationally via digital cable and subscriber satellite
dishes, and that such broadcasts are watched religiously by NBA
executives. "They get an understanding for how you dissect
situations," Johnson says. "It may be my ego talking, but I think
I'm as qualified as Doc and Isiah. I just need the right person
to realize that."
Someone has probably already realized that Rick Carlisle, who was
Larry Bird's right-hand man with the Pacers, belongs on the list
of head-coaching candidates for next season. He has been
preparing to run his own team by attending NBA practices,
studying tapes of pro and college games and working part time as
a broadcaster for the Sonics. "I didn't realize it would be such
a good tool," the 41-year-old Carlisle says of his time behind a
mike. "Overcoaching is a real danger when you become a head
coach, but broadcasting prepares you to stay concise. Production
and broadcasting people tell you that less is more, and timing is
everything, and that's the way it is with coaching."
P.J. Carlesimo is also among the talking heads who hope to find
work on the sideline--and not as the next Jim Gray. Carlesimo is a
studio analyst for NBC and a color man for half the Spurs' local
telecasts. "I'm sure it doesn't hurt," he says. "Maybe it gets my
name in the mix."
Outside the Box Score
Parting Gift For the Knicks
In his last game before being traded to the Raptors, Knicks point
guard Chris Childs helped preserve a 76-74 win over the visiting
Heat by harassing Tim Hardaway into an air ball on a three-point
attempt with five seconds to play. Hardaway was no doubt glad to
see Childs dealt (along with a No. 1 pick) for Mark Jackson, a
much slower defender.
For scores, schedules and stats, plus the latest news and
analysis from Phil Taylor and Marty Burns, go to
Around The Rim
Bucks coach George Karl believes competition in the NBA would be
better if players could only sign one-year contracts. But Sonics
coach Nate McMillan believes his team is underachieving because
Patrick Ewing, Ruben Patterson, Shammond Williams, Emanual Davis
and Jelani McCoy will all be free agents this summer. "Guys in a
contract year are trying to put up numbers," McMillan says. "This
team can play with anybody when it doesn't have [guys pursuing
their own] agendas."...
By unloading Juwan Howard and the remaining two years and $39.4
million of his contract in an eight-player deal with Dallas, the
Wizards can avoid paying the luxury tax, which should give
Michael Jordan freedom to make moves without the threat of more
vetoes from owner Abe Pollin...
David Stern's decision to allow the Grizzlies to move this year
signals that expansion is not in the league's immediate plans.
Otherwise, by taking the best available market, Vancouver owner
Michael Heisley would be depriving his fellow owners of an
expansion fee that could well exceed $200 million...
The Raptors have become younger and more dynamic by adding Keon
Clark and Jerome Williams to their frontcourt through trades in
the past two months. If Toronto re-signs Williams, a free agent,
that may make the team more appealing to Antonio Davis and Vince
Carter, who will become free agents this summer and next,
Referee Greg Willard needed an ice pack to his jaw at halftime
of a recent game in Minnesota after a male acrobat doing a flip
kicked him during a timeout. Willard finished the game...
Since the conferences expanded to an eight-team playoff format
in 1983-84, no No. 8 seed has had more than 44 wins. The
Timberwolves, who held the final spot in the West at week's end,
are on pace for 48.
Deeply religious Knicks guard Allan Houston (left) is a strict
adherent to the Eighth Commandment: Thou shalt not steal. At
week's end Houston was committing only 0.65 thefts per
game--roughly one quarter of Allen Iverson's league-leading mark
(2.40). Among perimeter players (guards and small forwards) with
1,200 minutes logged this season, Houston had the worst ratio of
minutes to steals. --David Sabino
PLAYER, TEAM MINUTES STEALS MINUTES PER STEAL
Allan Houston, Knicks 1,999 35 57.1
Wally Szczerbiak, Timberwolves 1,965 37 53.1
Mike Miller, Magic 1,437 28 51.3
Glen Rice, Knicks 1,489 30 49.6
Steve Smith, Trail Blazers 1,769 36 49.1
On the Spurs, who are in the hunt for their second title in three
"Their chances are very, very good because they have more balance
on the perimeter this year. Derek Anderson has been productive
since he signed as a free agent, and Antonio Daniels gives them
scoring off the bench. Then they've got Sean Elliott and Avery
Johnson working their way back from injuries and a big-game
player in Terry Porter. That balanced scoring is going to take a
lot of pressure off Tim Duncan and David Robinson in the post
when teams trap and double-team them. I would put the Spurs right
behind the Trail Blazers in the West, but Duncan has to start
making his free throws again."