Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady was one of the most talented players to ever grace an NBA court but as great as his career was, the “What If” scenarios that involve him are more interesting than what actually happened to him. In this post, we will akcnoledge the known rumors of what almost happened with T-Mac, and we will analyze how that would’ve affected the rest of the league and the history of the NBA.
Scenario 1: T-Mac Gets Traded for Scottie Pippen in 1997
Now since this was on draft night, it’s tough to say whether the Raptors would still snatch McGrady and then trade him for Pippen, or another team grabs him, and they make a trade with the Bulls. For this hypothetical, let’s say that the former happens. If McGrady gets traded for Pippen, not only does Chicago not win another title, but there’s a chance that Michael Jordan retires early, and that awful 1999 Bulls season happens a couple of years early.
Because if Jordan leaves, Dennis Rodman, Phil Jackson, and Steve Kerr will follow. Best case scenario, Jordan stays a couple of more seasons with the Bulls and mentors McGrady to reach his potential quicker than he actually did. However, knowing that Jordan only wanted to compete for championships at this stage of his career, my bet is that Jordan checks out early.
On top of that, Scottie Pippen is a big question mark. On paper, a combination of himself playing second banana to young future superstar Vince Carter, in a quest to claim the East, would be a lot of fun to watch. However, a more likely scenario would be the known complainer in Pippen demanding a buyout or another trade, refusing to report to camp much like the way Alonzo Mourning did.
He already had a bit of a reputation for attitude issues during his time with the Bulls and even in a hypothetical scenario, this doesn’t change here. Toronto’s hand would be forced, and it would make Pippen a free man. In this situation, there’s a chance that he helps Charles Barkley win a title a year earlier by joining the Houston Rockets, much like in real life.
The reason that this is special is because not only would this give us Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, and Scottie Pippen a year earlier, but Clyde Drexler would also still be there. This would create a “Big Four” of mythic proportions and though they would have to gut their bench to make the Pippen signing happen, it’s entirely possible. Without Pippen, that Rockets team lost in the Western Conference Finals to the Stockton/Malone Utah Jazz in six games but with Pippen, there’s a chance they go to the Finals because that foursome would be hard to guard at any position.
Though a match up with the 1998 Indiana Pacers would be touch, it would surely be an exciting series that could’ve changed a lot of careers. Does Charles Barkley or Reggie Miller get their first ring? Does Clyde Drexler still retire, or does he push it a couple of more years? Does Pippen stay with the Rockets past one season? Does Houston become the place for veteran free agents? Does Pippen win one more ring than Jordan? It’s tough to say.
What happens to T-Mac? Does he turn into the blossoming star that we saw in Orlando a couple of years earlier, or does his progression falter on a young Bulls team who’s best players are Ron Harper and Toni Kukoc? As a fan, I think Tracy McGrady would figure it out, but it’s hard to say because McGrady did face some struggles early on with the Raptors.
Unfortunately for McGrady, Michael Jordan refused the deal and made the right decision, winning another two titles with his partner-in-crime instead.
Scenario 2: T-Mac Gets Traded to the 76ers in 1999
Apparently, the deal was set. Larry Hughes was to be traded for Tracy McGrady and a first-round pick. Sadly, the 76ers got cold feet, furthering their incompetence in getting superstar Allen Iverson some help. During this timeframe, McGrady was trying his hand at the point guard position in Toronto and did so fairly well. His passing ability always stayed with him and since Larry Brown moved Iverson to the shooting guard position to make sense of his shot-chucking mentality, there’s a chance that McGrady would come in as the starting point guard for the 76ers, creating a young match up problem for any backcourt in the East.
All Iverson needed was a running mate to help score when he got cold. Who better to do that than one of the most talented scorers of his era in T-Mac? Though the rest of the team was below average at best (with the only redeeming player being defensive stalwart Theo Ratliff), these two would grow with each other and achieve a lot of success in the barren wasteland that was the Eastern Conference in the early 2000s.
When McGrady went to Orlando, he wanted to play with Grant Hill, an All-Star veteran that he could go to war with. He was willing to take a backseat if he played with some serious talent. This mentality would’ve worked perfectly with the alpha dog that was Allen Iverson. Also, considering that Iverson was able to take this lowly team to the NBA Finals in 2001, can you imagine how well he would’ve done with Tracy McGrady as the second option?
Though he wouldn’t have had any seasons averaging over 28 PPG playing with someone like Iverson, there’s a good chance that T-Mac could’ve pulled off some very nice assist-filled seasons. Playing in this situation would’ve changed how McGrady played and potentially could’ve put him in a winning situation early in his career. He very well might have turned into a better playoff performer because of it.
With Iverson igniting the fire within him, these two would surely have a couple of Finals appearances, maybe snatching one away from Jason Kidd’s Nets, and definitely would’ve made the Eastern Conference Finals a few times. It’s hard to say if they would’ve beaten the Lakers though. Sure, this hypothetical 76ers backcourt would be almost impossible to stop, but their bench was nowhere near what the Lakers had.
Who knows? Maybe the 76ers would’ve built their bench even better during these years had people saw the potential that these two had together. All they needed was each other and some veterans. With an all-time coach like Larry Brown, a team with these guys could’ve done wonders.
It’s too bad Toronto backed out of the deal.
Scenario 3: T-Mac Gets Traded to the Lakers in 1997
If the Lakers traded Eddie Jones for young rookie Tracy McGrady in 1997, the Lakers core for the next five years would’ve had a backcourt of T-Mac and Kobe, with Shaquille O’Neal as the center, backing them at his most dominant. If you thought Shaq and Kobe were hard to beat back then, can you imagine adding McGrady to the mix?
Now, McGrady is a player that works as hard as his surrounding environment. If he was facing Kobe every day in practice, in a big market like Los Angeles, chances are that McGrady will work harder than ever. Other than Michael Jordan, no one can light a fire under someone like Kobe. Though Shaq’s lackadaisical attitude could influence McGrady, there’s a good chance that McGrady would be around Kobe in practice more often because of the front office pushing that the young nucleus of the team would revolve around this backcourt working. Being around Kobe more would surely influence the young McGrady.
On top of that, Phil Jackson would probably still come over to the Lakers going into the 1999-00 season. Not only would McGrady be a motivated young superstar that would play with some of the best talent in the league, but he would also get to play for one of the greatest NBA coaches ever. Though playing in the triangle would force T-Mac’s stats to suffer, potentially ruining his Hall of Fame-like numbers as an individual superstar on bad teams, there’s a great chance that he would not only have three championships, but potentially more.
Even if Shaq still leaves after the 2004 Finals run, there’s a good chance that McGrady still stays with Bryant, and they do something similar to our hypothetical with T-Mac and Iverson. Either way, McGrady wins. Though he wouldn’t be looked at as the main guy, he would probably be referred to as the “Scottie Pippen of the 2000s” and that’s not a bad thing.
However, because of the big risk of adding another teenager and it potentially not working out (getting rid of All-Star Eddie Jones in the process), everyone in Laker-land decided against it.
Scenario 4: The Magic Acquire Tim Duncan in 2000
After a great first year in Orlando, with Tracy McGrady showing that he is a superstar in this league, the Magic tried to court Tim Duncan to join the young squad. Adding an already NBA Champion with a top guard like McGrady, and a returning-from-injury Grant Hill, would be absolutely deadly in the Eastern Conference. With Doc Rivers coaching, this “Big 3” could’ve easily contended for the next decade.
At the minimum, they make the NBA Finals in 2001. Even with the inevitable Hill injury, a prime Tim Duncan with a prime McGrady is unstoppable. As much heart and fire as Iverson’s 76ers had, I don’t see how they could beat a 1-2 combo like this, especially if they nab other free agents in the offseason that would surely be better with a team captained by these two.
As young as they are, I don’t think they would break these two up either. There’s a chance that they actually make the NBA Finals once Hill finally makes his healthy return in 2004-05. With this, the legacy of T-Mac, as well as Grant Hill, would change forever, both getting titles at McGrady’s peak. Patrick Ewing would’ve even gotten a ring had he still joined the team like he did in real life.
Though these guys would benefit exponentially with this hypothetical, at the same time, Duncan’s legacy would be bogged down. Even with this inconsistent, injury-dependent team, there’s still no shot that Duncan wins five championships again. He’d probably cap out at two, especially if McGrady still starts his decline in the late 2000s.
Regardless, the Magic franchise would’ve been a force to be reckoned with. It’s unfortunate that Doc Rivers screwed this one up by himself.
Featured Image Credit: AP Photo/David J. Phillip. The Associated Press. AP Photo/Scott Audette
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