There has been a problem in basketball forever, which is nobody really knows how to value good players on bad teams.
I could find you plenty of columns from NBA writers about how young Kevin Garnett had a lot to learn about leadership and winning when he was in Minnesota and lost a lot.
Then he went to Boston, didn't play quite as well as he had in Minnesota, and led a team to a title.
MVP awards, All-Star nods and media praise all skews to the winners, for reasons I understand. It's very hard to tell the difference between a selfish stat hog and a great player trapped on a bad roster. A crude way to tell one from the other is to see who wins, and especially who wins titles.
But the fact remains that you can absolutely be a great player in the NBA -- Pau Gasol was practically run out of Memphis! -- and just not win all that much. Just before he won a title in Detroit, Rasheed Wallace was a cancer in Portland and Atlanta. The list goes on and on.
Some blame that accrues to players should really be spread to owners and front offices, who often get a free pass.
New kinds of statistics, though, offer new ways to assign credit and blame for a team's play. That means there are now imperfect, but far better than ever before, ways to tell the difference between teams that lost despite a great player and teams that lost because of a player who wasn't as great as advertised.
Eddy Rivera has been poking around some of those numbers on his Magic Basketball blog, and has found that in his best years with the Magic, Tracy McGrady was absolutely amazing.
It needs to be stated. McGrady’s prime was wasted.
It’s hard to fathom how awful McGrady’s supporting cast was. It absolutely, clearly, and positively speaks to McGrady’s gifted abilities that Orlando was a .500 team. Given the amount of talent on the roster, or a lack thereof, McGrady did the equivalent of turning water into wine.
McGrady’s best teammates were Darrell Armstrong, Drew Gooden, Mike Miller, Bo Outlaw, and not much else. Armstrong was the best of the bunch and a very good point guard, but he was on the decline as soon as McGrady arrived in Orlando. The Magic had to package Miller in a deadline deal for Gooden and Gordan Giricek, a trade that did pan out at the time. Yet Miller emerged as the Sixth Man of the Year in 2006 with the Memphis Grizzlies and remains one of the most efficient shooters in the NBA. And one of the moves that stands out like a sore thumb from general manager John Gabriel, that would slowly set in motion the rise and fall of McGrady, was when Outlaw was traded early in the 2001-2002 regular season, along with a first round draft pick, to the Phoenix Suns for Jud Buechler to free up cap space. That pick became Amar’e Stoudemire.
Other issues that arose was the Magic’s inability to make good draft picks, which robbed the roster of young talent that was desperately needed. Prospects like Jeryl Sasser, Steven Hunter, and others became synonymous with the word ‘bust’ in the dictionary. When Orlando did have a rookie of worth, like Matt Harpring, they traded him away. The Magic needed big men, which is why they traded Harpring for Andrew DeClercq, but still. As for Orlando’s free agent signings, not many of them panned out very well. If it was 1994, the signings of Patrick Ewing, Horace Grant, and others would have meant something significant but they were quick fixes, not long-term solutions. When the Magic did sign someone of worth, like Juwan Howard in the off-season prior to the 2003-2004 regular season, it was too late. The damage was done.