Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
NEW YORK — Tracy McGrady hasn’t played an NBA game in two months and is still recovering from microfracture knee surgery 12 months ago.
Ready or not, McGrady received a loud ovation just before he made his New York Knicks debut Saturday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Madison Square Garden.
McGrady, 30, was acquired from Sacramento in a three-team deal also involving Houston on Thursday, the NBA trading deadline.
“It feels good to be back playing basketball,” McGrady said as he settled into the Knicks’ locker room before the game. “I’ve missed the game. I’ve been away from it so long. It’s almost pretty much gonna feel foreign to me. But what better place to come back and start playing than Madison Square Garden in front of very passionate fans, bright lights, big stage? I embrace that.”
McGrady, a seven-time All-Star and two-time scoring champ, admitted he’s “definitely not 100 percent” physically but said he’s much improved from where he was.
“With this type of surgery, it takes a year,” he said. “Close to it. Considering what I went through last year, how I felt physically, mentally, I’m so far from that. I’m so far as far as confidence in my leg, my ability to go out and be effective on the basketball court. That’s all that really matters, that I’m able to bring something to my team to help us win ballgames.”
McGrady did say he planned to change his jersey number from 3 to 1 next season. He wore 3 to support his Darfur documentary “3 Points.” Chris Duhon currently wears No. 1 but has no contract for next season.
Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said McGrady was “fine physically” and he expects him to return to his All-Star form at some point.
“He’s been an All-Star for a long time and I expect him to play at that level or get back to that level at some time,” D’Antoni said.
The coach said he would try to rest McGrady and play him accordingly so he can get his legs under him.
“I’ll watch him and he’ll look over and when he wants a blow, he’ll give me the sign or I might just take him out,” D’Antoni said.
The Knicks (19-34) will use their final 29 games of the season to evaluate McGrady and the four other new players they obtained in trades.
“For all the guys on the team now, they gotta star showing that they can play intense, playoff-type basketball,” Knicks president Donnie Walsh said.
Walsh has cleared more than $30 million in salary-cap space and could choose to pursue two max-contract free agents come July 1.
McGrady knows he could just be a short-term rental before the Knicks pursue players such as LeBron James or Dwyane Wade this summer, but says he would take a considerable pay cut from this season’s $22.5 million salary to stay in New York if the Knicks got those players.
“I was glad to hear that,” Walsh said.
“I think New York should be on everybody’s mind if you’re a player because it’s a great city, one of the best in the world. The passion of New York fans to me is evident in the last two years because we haven’t had winning records. Now if you play real bad, they’ll boo you but that shows passion. But I think it’s a great place to play and I can’t see how a player wouldn’t think about playing here.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.