Very often teams will become better not by adding new players but by simply ridding themselves of toxic (either in play, or attitude) ones. The Warriors did as much last year by shipping out Monta Ellis and they have improved significantly despite netting almost nothing in return with Andrew Bogut being injured much of the year. I'm sure you can recall countless more instances. The opposite of this scenario is adding a player, a single player to an already established roster, with negative results.
My first reaction to the Tracy McGrady signing was a sort of what-next? laughter. I didn't find it shocking as many did, because I recalled the Spurs tendency to sign over-the-hill players. It's a long history, sprinkled with a lot of once-big names: Nick Van Exel, Glenn Robinson, Drew Gooden, and the more recent the training camp flirtation with Eddy Curry. It's a seemingly high reward, low risk proposition. Here's a fella who used to score like a zillion points per game, why not give it a shot? The worst thing is he stinks up the joint and Pop just sits him, right? No harm in that.
I'm not so optimistic.
The first thing that everyone should keep in mind is that not one team wanted McGrady at the beginning of this season; Spurs included. McGrady had a rough stint in Atlanta, his last NBA stop, and reportedly had some major misgivings concerning his playing time. But we've seen far worse off-court issues from players before and the bottom line is always ability. So can the player in question still get it done? And in San Antonio the even more appropriate question is always, can he effectively play a role in the Spurs system?
We've all heard Pop's mantra on corporate knowledge and it makes good sense. The more familiar a player is with the Spurs system the better. And to take it a step further, the more accustomed a player is in playing his role in the system, the more he can benefit the team, if not his own personal stats. It takes a more sophisticated view of basketball to appreciate what it really is to sacrifice personal achievement for the betterment of the team and as Spurs fans we're well indoctrinated. Which is why I'm a bit perplexed about all the Tracy McGrady optimism.
If there ever was a player ill-fitted for the Spurs system it's McGrady. This is not about him being selfish or not accepting of roles or fitting in with the Spurs culture (though he did once say that Stephen A. Smith gave a voice to NBA players...ummm, what?) At 33 I fully expect him to say all the right things and be in a good mental place coming aboard. The guy's never been out of the first round, so I'm sure he wants to do things the Spurs way. He sees the success, the tradition, the championships. But try as he may, he does not know how to be an effective complimentary player. McGrady needs the ball to be effective. He needs it! I feel very confident in assuming that he was THE MAN in China, so thinking he's coming back as some sort of changed player is bonkers. A changed and humbled man? Maybe, who knows? But goodwill isn't going to help the Spurs win games. He's not a good spot up shooter, he doesn't get after it on defense and as for his elevated basketball IQ, I've certainly never seen evidence of it.
For McGrady to be successful, he needs to be the point man -- dominating the ball, making reads, attacking or deferring -- and I just can't imagine Pop handing over that kind of responsibility to anyone not named Manu, Tony or Tim. Especially not to someone new to the crew. Of course a lot of this hinges on Manu's availability come playoff time, and holding McGrady as nothing more than an insurance policy, I can swallow. But WHEN Manu comes back, McGrady's rightful place will be on the bench. All signs for me point to McGrady being irrelevant, which is a best case scenario, because if he sees extended playing time it's inevitable he disturbs what has thus far been a successful season for the Spurs.