They’re the guys that a generation of NBA fans grew up worshiping, and for a time, they’re the guys who were seen as basketball immortals. It’s strange to look at them now, limping along, aging less gracefully each year. Can they still show a little spark next season? Whose career still has life — Shaquille O’Neal, Tracy McGrady or Allen Iverson?
It’s an odd group, but hear me out — by the time Aug. 1 rolled around and it had been one full month into the NBA’s free-agent season, the three former All-Stars were the biggest names left on the scrap heap.
Generally, when 30 teams are out there retooling and you go untouched for a whole month, it obvious that your career has seen better days. And that’s definitely the case with these three.
Shaq is no longer the Superman presence he was in his 20s, dominating every possession on both ends of the floor and scoring at will in the low post. He’s not the Finals MVP, multiple scoring title holding, infinity-time All-Star that he used to be. He’s a serviceable center, a fringe starter in the league at age 38.
McGrady was the league’s leading scorer in back-to-back seasons from 2002 to 2004. He used his athleticism and his deadly shooting ability to make even the game’s best defenders look silly. Don’t expect him to do much of that anymore.
As for Iverson, he was quite possibly the most tenacious little guy in the history of the world, stopping at nothing to get his points and help his team win. He’s now outside the Association looking in.
Shaq is now with the Celtics, sitting pretty with a two-year deal and two chances to win his fifth ring in the NBA. McGrady’s a Piston, after a long exploration of free agency. Iverson left the Sixers in February and wasn’t seen in the league again, but various rumors this summer have linked him to Miami, New York and now possibly Atlanta. He still wants to compete, and he’ll likely catch on somewhere.
Shaq will be big in Boston. He gives the C’s a hefty dose of offensive rebounding and post scoring — two areas in which they struggled mightily last season. Iverson, if and when he finally finds work, will be a solid contributor in someone’s rotation.
But with T-Mac, the potential is there for a career renaissance in the Motor City. The seven-time All-Star forward is still only 31. He’s undergone a trying couple of years since 2007-08 when he led the Rockets to 55 wins and the West playoffs — he’s been injured, he’s been disgruntled, he’s been cast off by Houston and then this summer and by the Knicks as well.
But with a one-year contract and a chance to showcase his talents to the world in preparation for next summer, he’s going to play the best ball he’s played in a while.
T-Mac dropped 21.6 points per game for the Rockets in ’08, but he’s been injury prone and inconsistent ever since. If he wants to return to form, he’s got to remain healthy and focused. He’s got to play like a star in Detroit. He knows how.
He’s capable of doing it — and the process, he just might make the Pistons relevant again. Always a good thing.
All three guys theoretically have what it takes to make an impact. But with all due respect to O’Neal and Iverson, McGrady is the real prize right now.
NESN.com will analyze 25 key NBA questions this September.
Sept. 6: Who’s still going the strongest — Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki or Steve Nash?
Sept. 8: Has any NBA GM ever had a better offseason than Pat Riley?