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Breathing Fresh Air: An Offseason Spent Without Tracy McGrady

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The Rockets will be entering their first season without Tracy McGrady since 2004. Should we question the fact that McGrady has practically disappeared from Houston's basketball conscience?

For the first time in nearly seven years, we don't have a reason to talk about Tracy McGrady. I can't decide if this is saddening, encouraging or just odd.

The worn down, 6-foot-8 shell of a basketball player may have jettisoned to New York back in February, but McGrady's essence -- his T-Macness -- has always been here in Houston, until now it seems. I haven't bothered to think about Tracy McGrady for weeks, even months. This is very, very strange.

We like to talk about legacies quite a bit in sports. They're important to us, like cherished memories. But we share these memories -- thousands of us do, and in most cases, they're bunched together under a single conclusion. Michael Jordan is synonymous with winning and everyone operates under this assumption. Ryan Leaf is synonymous with the term "bust." Craig Biggio is synonymous with class. The list goes on, and for the most part, we as fans can agree on most of these classifications.

But what do we think about Tracy McGrady? He was a perennial All-Star, a scoring machine and a popular figure during his tenure with the Rockets... and yet I can't tell you how relaxing this offseason (yes, even this offseason) has been without him. 

Finally, we no longer need to worry about McGrady's health status or his standing with the club or any of that. This summer has been about the team, not about a single player. Like a 25-cent glass of lemonade on a sweltering Houston afternoon, this new way of following the Rockets has been incredibly refreshing.

To be fair, I certainly don't want to completely wipe clean McGrady's slate of accomplishments as a Rocket. McGrady's rainy days shouldn't overshadow his glowing performances, because in his best form, Tracy McGrady could make you feel guilty for only paying the allotted ticket price. Ask Shawn Bradley what it tastes feels like to turn and see McGrady driving like a madman down the baseline. 

13 in 33. We all remember that one. Thirteen points in thirty-three seconds, an impossible feat. That was the night that McGrady single handedly took down the San Antonio Spurs, and, in the process, rendered the phrase "single-handedly" virtually inapplicable to any other athletic achievement by comparison. It was the greatest thing I had ever seen. Yes, I'm being broad on purpose.

But is that all that McGrady will get from Rockets fans -- 33 seconds? From a regular season game, no less?

It's a strange debate, this. From distance, McGrady's career in Houston was quite successful ("distance" referring to vantage point, rather than to his subpar three-point shot). The Rockets won games. They reached the 50-win mark four times during McGrady's tenure. They also won 22 games in a row without Yao Ming in 2008, a feat that still hasn't received its due recognition.

McGrady's presence also found Houston a comfortable spot on the national basketball map. In theory, T-Mac and Yao became the NBA's premier duo once Shaquille O'Neal parted ways with Kobe Bryant. The Great Wall joined McGrady on the Western Conference All-Star team's starting lineup on two occasions, making the Rockets the only team to feature such a pairing.

And that's where it stops. All-Star games, flashy stats and regular-season success. To continue on is to only uncover a world of frustration.

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McGrady's best years should have been in Houston, but they weren't. It stings like the dickens to admit such, but it's the truth. Whether or not that's McGrady's fault is still in the air, though it's clear that his lackluster supporting cast didn't offer much during multiple playoff failures (something that is best exemplified by T-Mac's final playoff run with the Rockets in 2008, when he dropped 40 points on 50 percent shooting against the Utah Jazz in Game 6, only to see the Rockets lose by 20).

For a long while, seeing McGrady play in uniform was a joy. Even between injuries, during his first few seasons as a Rocket, I mostly watched in awe. Conversely, upon seeing McGrady in a suit and on the bench, I wanted to gouge my eyes out. However, as McGrady began to get older, slower and more frustrated with his declining ability and his injury problems, the uniformed T-Mac slowly began to merge with the hobbled McGrady to form a polarizing, paranoid athlete who no longer brought any value to the court. He got on my nerves and pissed me off, frankly. It was a long, sad transition, one that could likely be adapted into an Alexander Payne film.

McGrady's calling card slowly changed from elite scorer to possession eater, from franchise player to injury liability.The first-round playoff exits began to pile up as well. Ironically, the one year that the Rockets managed to reach the second round saw McGrady nursing an injury on the bench. This only further contributed to T-Mac's growing popularity as a poster boy for sarcastic 40-Year-Old Virgin spinoffs. Eventually, McGrady started whining about playing time and asked to be traded, putting a bittersweet end to a Rockets career that equated to a string of first-class steaks and sickening desserts. In its ugly stages, Rockets fans wanted nothing more than to see their once beloved superstar hit the road.

So here we are. The Rockets are fresh off signing Brad Miller and are looking to compete for a Western Conference title. McGrady is in Los Angeles trying to keep his career afloat. And I'm sitting here wondering if I should care what happens to the man. Breaking up is hard to do, unless your name is Latrell Sprewell.

McGrady will go down as one of the premier talents to ever don a Rockets uniform -- there's no questioning that. However, I'm not sure I want to discuss his legacy just yet. I'm still feeling the aftershocks of last year's griping marathon. You can admire McGrady for the magic that he could randomly pull out of his shin sleeve all you'd like. You also have to consider the final results. For a player of McGrady's caliber and impact, they don't add up like they should.

We can give McGrady his thirty-three seconds, sure. But what can McGrady give to the Rockets? Better yet, what did he give to the Rockets? After six seasons, the answer to that question, much like McGrady's playing status in years past, remains TBD.

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.