When it comes to player transactions and contracts, the NBA is a funny league. The classic contractual life cycle of a depressingly disproportionate number of NBA players goes like this:
1.) Play under your rookie contract for a few years
2.) Impress enough teams for someone to eventually way overpay for you on a five- or six-year deal after your rookie deal is up
3.) About three months into your new deal when your team realizes that you (a) are not named LeBron, Kobe, or D-Wade and (b) you don't put one ass in a single seat, you watch as they try and peddle you around for someone's expiring contract so they can open up some cap space to allow themselves to make the same mistake with someone else in the off-season.
You've heard skeptical, jaded former boat owners espouse the old saying that "the two happiest days of a boat owner's life are the day he buys the boat and the day he sells it." In many respects, you could say the same thing about NBA players. The day that a signing is executed always feels good because inherently you feel like you've filled some sort of need; otherwise, why would you have done the deal?
Then after most signings, the general manager realizes how much they overpaid and how few NBA players truly play for "the love of the game" (as opposed to playing for the security of the eight-figure "second contract"), and then the general manager is only happy once he has dumped the remaining four years and sixty-some-odd million dollars on some other poor sap. That's how it goes.
The process for some players to devolve from "vibrant NBA player" to "[fill in name of player]'s expiring contract" takes longer than others. With some it happens fairly quickly. Theo Ratliff spent the better part of his adult years being referred to as "Theo Ratliff's Expiring Contract" while getting paid around $10 million a year to block a few shots and collect jerseys from practically every NBA team. With some players, you can see the metamorphosis coming down the road in a few years (that light at the end of the tunnel is the Expiring Contract train known as Rashard Lewis).
Whatever the case may be, with most players there is a certain "jump the shark" point where that player's value ceased being a function of points, rebounds and assists, and became a direct product of the expiration date and dollar amount on his contract. For Tracy McGrady, that point in time was this....
Nice matador resistance that would have made even the most defensively challenged Paul Westhead team blush. (By the way, Clutch over at Clutchfans.net has a great write-up on how this was the point where T-Mac lost Houston.) I would say this is the day Tracy McGrady officially became Tracy McGrady's Expiring Contract, when he ceased having any redeeming basketball qualities except for the fiscal size and expiration date of his contract.
Now, that's not to say that Tracy McGrady's Expiring Contract (T-MEC, for
short) hasn't given us some memorable moments that we'll all sit back and
reflect upon years from now. Quite the opposite. In fact, T-MEC (kind of
like that nickname, hope it sticks, keep it alive people!) has been special
enough to where I can at least cobble together the Five Greatest Moments of
Tracy McGrady's Expiring Contract, so here goes....
5. T-MEC rejects his own dunk
*There's not much to say here, this youtube clip says it all....
4. T-MEC announces his microfracture surgery....on his website...without telling his employer....
On my radio show, we frequently make fun of Tracy McGrady's blog. Not only is it a cesspool of his own myopia where he spends the better part of most of his posts lying about how hard he's going to get after it rehabbing his injuries, but the "Comments" section are the highest of high comedy, if for no other reason than it appears that Tracy has the entire country of China snowed into thinking he's still T-Mac and not T-MEC. Seriously, go check out the comments of his blog posts. It's awesome. Anytime I start to feel like China may have surpassed us a world power, I read the "Comments" on T-Mac's blog and play some Lee Greenwood and it makes me feel much better about America.
That said, I can see why T-MEC's blog followers are so loyal -- they get BREAKING NEWS about Tracy's medical decisions even before Rick Adelman and Daryl Morey!! Seriously, is there a "real world" equivalent that you can even come up with whereby the most pivotal employee in a company announces on the internet that he's making a career-altering decision without talking to those who run the company? Is it the equivalent of a CFO announcing sweeping organizational changes in a Fortune 500 company and the CEO finding out about by watching the Bloomberg Channel? That's about as close an analogy as I can muster.
3. T-MEC picks the Lakers to win the NBA title
The only thing more annoying than Tracy the Victim, a role that he plays to perfection by the way....
...is Tracy the Fake Good Teammate. It's always fun to hear a condescending narcissist talk about how proud he is of "HIS guys." Well, as proud as T-MEC may have been of "HIS guys" during the 2008-2009 playoff run, he still wasn't confident enough in them to pick them to win the title or even give a "no comment" when asked by a radio host whom he thought would win the 2008-2009 NBA championship. Instead, he picked the Lakers to win the championship while still a paid employee of the Rockets organization and while "HIS guys" were toiling in Portland winning a playoff series...an end result with which Tracy McGrady is completely unfamiliar (0-7 in playoff series for his career).
2. T-MEC showing up in Members Only gear for a playoff game
I have no Google images to back this up, mostly because I think they've all been erased from the internet because of the assault on the visual senses that they represented, but if memory serves, T-MEC did show up at a Rockets playoff game last year to support "HIS guys", and he wore maybe the most hideous jacket in NBA history, complete with pink-and-black checker marks on the exaggerated collar and Members Only flaps on the shoulders. It could be that this image is part of some nightmare sequence I had that included Alex Rodriguez winning a World Series (...what's that?....he won one??...DAMMIT!!), but I am almost positive this occurred.
1. T-MEC cuts his 2009-2010 season short by taking his ball and going home
After a total of 47 minutes in six games, only one of which you could reasonably say that T-MEC looked ready to contribute to an NBA rotation, Tracy proclaimed that he needed more minutes and that it was time to flush the Rockets newfound chemistry (sans Tracy) down the toilet so that T-MEC could sit at the big kids' table. When Rick Adelman told him (rightfully) that wasn't going to happen, T-MEC decided it was time to go do what he did best -- head home and cash big, fat checks while lying about how hard he's working. This was an appropriate end to a marriage that went from blind honeymoon to guarded skepticism to drowning in quicksand in a matter of about four years.
So now the question becomes "Where does Tracy McGrady's Expiring Contract wind up?" The rumor mill has been fast and furious with the latest rumor indicating a Big Apple landing spot for T-MEC with Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood ultimately winding up in Rockets gear. Of all the deals I've heard, this is by far the best one as it improves the Rockets in two spots this season, gives them a guy who can get his own shot late in the shot clock in Butler, and doesn't involve any potential boat-anchor contracts coming on board. The Rockets improve their team and maintain long-term flexibility all for the low, low price of tolerating T-MEC for the last year or two.
Certainly, we'll miss the botched dunks and pissy attitude, T-MEC. Ultimately, those were your true go-to moves. So an early farewell to you, Tracy McGrady's Expiring Contract...I'd like to say "we barely knew ye," but unfortunately we did get to know ye...all too well.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 3-7 weekdays on the Sean & John Show, and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.