The split with Tracy McGrady is one of the most bitter and heart-breaking divorces in Magic history.
It was simply clear after that horrendous 21-61 year where McGrady offered moments of brilliance (see his 61-point outburst against Washington) and moments of sheer frustration (see his four-point outing against Minnesota early in the year where McGrady openly contemplated retiring). It did not help that McGrady simply did not get along with then-Magic general manager Jon Weisbrod.
After Weisbrod took over in the middle of the season, it was clear he was taking the team in another direction. He had the vision of building a tough-minded team that would resemble those that win hockey championships. That was Weisbrod's background and at the time it was actually refreshing to hear a general manager come forward with a vision for the team rather than simply saying "Let's surround our superstar with complementary pieces."
But McGrady was not the type of player Weisbrod favored. The two clashed immediately. Eventually McGrady asked to be traded from Orlando as his frustrations finally got the better of him. He was traded to Houston a few days after draft night (where McGrady was also upset Orlando selected Dwight Howard over Emeka Okafor).
Magic fans turned on McGrady pretty quickly for forcing his way out and later admitting that he quit on that 2004 team. That must have been tough for someone from nearby Auburndale.
McGrady though still has no love lost for Weisbrod, even if he still seems to have a desire to make things right with the Magic.
A fan recently asked McGrady on Twitter if he had any regret leaving Orlando. McGrady responded: "I wish they had a GM with an NBA pedigree like Otis [Smith] when I was there/left."
Weisbrod's hockey background definitely continues to come under fire. He just did not have the basketball sense to mesh with a more quiet and laid-back player like McGrady (his leadership style probably was not what Orlando needed in 2004 when the team named him captain and put a "C" on his jersey). Whatever Weisbrod envisioned for the Magic just never panned out. The Steve Francis trade ended horribly too.
I do not think McGrady is necessarily giving praise to Otis Smith here, but it certainly does not hurt. Smith's moves at least make some rational sense -- I mean, Arenas and Turkoglu USED to be All-Star caliber players. More I think McGrady is still upset over how Weisbrod never really seemed to give him a chance and they clashed from the beginning. Weisbrod's inexperience working with NBA players was certainly a factor in his failures.
John Gabriel may not have been the best general manager, but at least he was a long-time scout and front office member. He knew the NBA game.
Now that McGrady has seen a good chunk of his career hampered by the constant knee injuries that have held him to 137 games over the last three years (72 of which came last year with Detroit), you see a much more contemplative McGrady in my opinion. I do not think he would object to returnning to Orlando if they offered him a contract, even at the veteran's minimum.
The question is of course whether Magic fans would accept him, whether the team could take on another formerly injured superstar (we already have Gilbert Arenas) and whether McGrady would fit with this team. Those are questions that might be better left to free agency whenever that starts.
The McGrady era is always going to be filled with what ifs? Grant Hill's injuries zapped much of that team's potential and hampered John Gabriel during those years.
Photo via DayLife.com.