If the San Antonio Spurs offer you a contract, they aren't doing so light-heartedly. In fact, if you're wearing the silver and black, expect head coach Gregg Popovich to motion your way at some point during the ballgame.
That includes new Spurs guard Tracy McGrady.
While McGrady's place on the Spurs might only be a stop-gap for some of the recent injuries and poor play from the wing position, make no mistake—San Antonio signs players to play.
When the 2013 NBA playoffs are over, McGrady has a chance to prove he belongs in the NBA yet again, by taking whatever opportunity Popovich and staff give him and turning in success on the court.
McGrady and the Spurs inked a deal on Tuesday (h/t ESPN) as the team prepares for the playoffs. Beat up and dealing with injuries to two key guards (Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker), the loss of one forward (Boris Diaw) for the rest of the season and the recent release of Stephen Jackson, the Spurs need some depth along their bench.
Enter McGrady, who most recently averaged 25 points per game on 56 percent shooting for the Qingdao Eagles of the Chinese Basketball Association. The 33-year-old and seven-time NBA All-Star has career averages of 19.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists, and led the NBA in scoring in 2003 and 2004.
He has never won a postseason series, one of the reasons joining up with the No. 2-seeded Spurs is such a blessing (via Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express News):
This is unbelievable, said McGrady, who averaged 5.3 points with Atlanta last season. It’s a championship organization, something I haven’t really been part of my entire career. I’m very excited. I’m humbled for the opportunity. I’m not sure when I’ll play or if I’ll play. That’s not the place for me (to complain). I just know when my number is called, I’ll be ready.
His attitude is a welcome sight for Spurs management, who reportedly released Jackson because the swingman was unhappy about his role with the team (via Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports). Jackson didn't play in two of his final three games of his second-career stint with the Spurs.
His loss is McGrady's gain.
At first glance, there's little doubt this move was made as a precaution.
You wouldn't get the idea that McGrady had a chance to make the long-term roster based on what Popovich said at Wednesday's afternoon shootaround (as reported by Jeff McDonald of the Express News), either:
Jeff McDonald @JMcDonald_SAEN
Pop refers to McGrady as "insurance policy." "We needed bodies."4/17/2013, 3:41:10 PM
Never one to divulge his inner thoughts, this is classic Pop-speak. McGrady might be just an insurance policy when the playoffs begin, but I can't help but think there's more to this signing than meets the eye.
Consider this—of the 16 guys to suit up for the Spurs this season, all have played at least 10 games. If you remove James Anderson, Aron Baynes and Cory Joseph from that list, 13 have played in at least 55 games. Remove Ginobili and re-insert Joseph, and all 13 have started at least one game for the team this season.
That's what you call trust.
Trust doesn't start when you start practicing with the Spurs. Every move is a thought-out, well-organized process that stems from intense research and an organization-wide effort to play chess with the other 29 teams in the league.
McGrady was in for a tryout with the Spurs in September (via SA Express News), and I'd wager to say that scouts crossed the ocean to see what he looked like in China while the start of the NBA season was going on.
When the opportunity presented itself, the Spurs pounced.
Now officially in position to outlast his expected career path once again, McGrady has a chance to prove that last season's flop with the Atlanta Hawks in the playoffs was a byproduct of the isolation system in place with Joe Johnson and Josh Smith, and not indicative of his ability to successfully be an off-the-ball player and occasional ball-handler.
If you don't think San Antonio recognizes that McGrady's scoring average goes from 19.6 to 25.2 when he hits the postseason, think again. They also remember what he did in the 2004 playoffs to the Spurs as a member of the Houston Rockets.
Those days are over, but a more-focused, more-disciplined McGrady remains, one that is so eager to get his first NBA playoff series victory that he went to China for half a season to prove he could still play.
The chance to play long-term minutes might or might not be there in San Antonio.
McGrady will not play in Wednesday night's season finale (h/t McDonald), and it takes time to learn the system that San Antonio has put in place on both ends. Facing either the Houston Rockets (how poetic would that be) or Los Angeles Lakers, the Spurs will also catch no breaks from opposing guards.
In the end, we may not get to see McGrady play big-time minutes and help the Spurs advance. But even if his role is to play James Harden, Kevin Durant or Metta World Peace in practice, he can help the Spurs by providing a guy with a basketball heart who so badly wants to win.
Having a "solid" postseason might be a simple as not screwing up a chance to play for a championship-caliber franchise.
By respecting the system, doing what is asked of him and providing the depth that San Antonio so desperately lacks, there could be a role for McGrady past whatever San Antonio accomplishes in the 2013 postseason.
In fact, if San Antonio is as crafty as we all know it to be, you can probably count on it.
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