If Tracy McGrady had any second thoughts about leaving Orlando, they vanished when he heard Magic G.M. John Weisbrod say he was not his type of player. "It shows you the difference between the two organizations," says McGrady, whose threat to opt out of his contract next summer led to Houston's acquiring him for Steve Francis in a seven-player trade. "I'm sure the Rockets had some dirt on Steve when he left here, but what did they say about him? Nothing but good things. They were professional."
McGrady's case for being the NBA's most talented player took a hit last season when the Magic finished with the league's worst record and critics branded him lazy and selfish. To counter them, he ratcheted up his summer conditioning program and spent the preseason preparing to play both guard positions as well as small forward to better mesh with All-Star center Yao Ming. "These are two guys who can stay together for 10 years--personally they're a lot alike, and basketballwise they're on the same page," says general manager Carroll Dawson. "Yao had already impressed me with his passing, and Tracy's passing is unbelievable."
McGrady admits he often settled for jumpers while winning his second straight scoring title last year, causing his shooting percentage to sink to a career-low .417. But he also notes that because he was Orlando's only threat, teams stacked their defenses to stop him from driving. He'll have more space in the structured attack of coach Jeff Van Gundy, who feels Houston is getting the 25-year-old at just the right time--when he has something to prove. "Tracy's seen how quickly [your reputation] can change," Van Gundy says. Now T-Mac is intent on getting back to being what he used to be: everyone's type of player. --I.T.
ENEMY LINES an opposing team's scout sizes up the Rockets
I disagree with those who say Yao Ming isn't tough; what he lacks is aggressiveness. Take Shaq--when smaller guys guard him, he makes them pay. How often have you seen Yao bending over to hold his position after being pushed off-balance by a player he should be destroying? He has to start making everybody pay every night.... At least Charlie Ward and Tyronn Lue will get Yao the ball at the right time, instead of waiting that extra second as Steve Francis did. The Rockets may seem weak at point guard, but it's the simplest position in Jeff Van Gundy's offense: Bring the ball up, pass to Tracy McGrady or Yao in the post, cut to the opposite side for a spot-up three-pointer. Plus, Lue can press full court when they want to pick up their defense.... When Bob Sura returns from back surgery early in the season, he'll serve as a combo guard whose aggressive D will make up for the fact that he's a turnover waiting to happen.... Juwan Howard had a lousy year with Orlando, but I have a feeling he's going to become a success story, like Jim Jackson was with Houston last season. Both are veterans who can post up--Van Gundy loves post-ups--and do the little things that decide games. Early in his career Jackson was lazy and didn't care about winning, but he's turned into a smart, reliable pro with three-point range.... Van Gundy will turn McGrady into a post-up scorer who gets to the foul line, but the biggest transformation for him has to happen at the defensive end. Every once in a while in Orlando, McGrady would get ticked off and shut down an opponent--but never the better players. Against them it was like he was afraid to fail defensively, so instead of stopping them, he'd try to outscore them.
Houston's acquisition of Tracy McGrady from Orlando marks the first time a reigning scoring champ has been traded during the offseason.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2003--04 statistics
Record: 45--37 (7th in West)
Points scored: 89.8 (25th in NBA)
Points allowed: 88.0 (5th)
Coach: Jeff Van Gundy
(second season with the Rockets)
JUWAN HOWARD [NEW ACQUISITION]
TRACY MCGRADY [NEW ACQUISITION]
CHARLIE WARD [NEW ACQUISITION]
NEW ACQUISITION *PVR Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 86)