Thursday , Jul , 01 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

McGrady and Yao could take over the West

By Warren Blatt, Sports Network NBA Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) – Houston got the superstar that it
wanted, as the Rockets acquired All-Star Tracy McGrady from the Orlando
Magic in a blockbuster trade.

Along with McGrady, the Magic also sent forward Juwan Howard and guards Tyronn
Lue and Reece Gaines to the Rockets, who shipped fan favorite Steve Francis,
guard Cuttino Mobley and forward/center Kelvin Cato to Orlando.

“Whenever you make a trade of this magnitude you have to give to get greatness
and I want to take a moment to thank Steve (Francis), Cuttino (Mobley) and
Kelvin (Cato) for the great year that we had,” said Houston head coach Jeff
Van Gundy. “It’s very hard to trade players because when they put on your
uniform and play with heart and passion and lead you to the playoffs it’s
difficult, but we feel we owe it to Rockets fans to put the best product we
can on the floor. Certainly with this trade we feel we have made a step
forward. We’re going to do something special this year and for all the years
to come.”

Originally selected out of Mount Zion Christian Academy High School by the
Toronto Raptors in the first round (ninth overall) of the 1997 NBA Draft,
McGrady averaged 28 points, six rebounds and 5.5 assists in 67 games for the
Magic this past season.

“In my seven years, I have never seen anything like this, said McGrady at the
press conference where an estimated 2,500 fans saw him introduced for the
first time as a Rocket. “I appreciate the love … I’m just looking forward to
something great happening in the city of Houston. And believe me, something
great is going to happen.”

By acquiring McGrady, who was traded by Toronto to Orlando in exchange for a
future first round draft pick in a sign-and-trade deal in August 2000, the
Rockets, who fell in five games to the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round
of this year’s playoffs, will try and takeover the Western Conference with a
the combination of All-Star center Yao Ming and McGrady. With the possibility
of Lakers’ All-Stars Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant playing on separate
squads next season, Houston could have the next great one-two punch that
will lead to numerous championships.

“It is truly a blessing to have a guy like Yao Ming who I think is going to be
dominant in his league,” said McGrady. “I’m coming here to try and help him
get better and he is only going to help make the game much easier for me so
I’m excited about him.”

Yao, who has been an All-Star in his first two seasons, averaged 17.5 points
and nine rebounds in 82 regular-season contests for Houston in 2003-04. In
five playoff games against the Lakers, Yao posted 15 points and 7.4 boards per
game. With Yao in the middle, the floor will open more for the explosive
McGrady, who will take advantage of situations where Yao is double-teamed down
low and he is left to go one-on-one with his defender.

There will be an adjustment for McGrady, who played the first seven years of
his career in the Eastern Conference. He will encounter a more physical style
of play in the West, which also consists of many more forces down low compared
to the East. The East is dominated by the guards, while the big men own the
West.

“Playing on the East it’s a lot more challenging because the Eastern
Conference has a lot of great guards and every night I really had my work cut
out for me,” said McGrady. “On the West, it’s made of a lot of big men and I
hope that I come here and do what I did in the Eastern conference and try to
do it better and hopefully turn this franchise around.”

Van Gundy will have two of the best players in the NBA in his lineup. The
Houston head coach knows that expectations have been raised to the next level.
In McGrady, Van Gundy is getting the total package offensively, but can the
Rockets’ general get the four-time All-Star to also be dominant defensively?

“He can be the premier defensive player in the NBA,” said Van Gundy. “He’s got
that type of quickness. He’s a tremendous passer. When you’re looking to
establish the culture of a team you’re looking for your best players to buy
into your vision and my vision has always been the best players lead you in
the areas of work and unselfishness. There is a lot of pressure on myself and
on him (McGrady) …and you can’t run away from expectations. Your choice is
to meet them or exceed them and we are going to try to exceed the expectations
that we have.”

Having McGrady and Yao is going to make Van Gundy’s life a hole lot easier.
However, the Houston coach will still need to devise schemes that exploit the
talents of both of these players when they are on the court at the same time.
After all, the Rockets now have a lethal inside-outside combination that is
capable of dominating on both ends of the court.

The 25-year-old McGrady got his wish when Orlando dealt him to the Rockets. He
is with a team that he feels can win a championship. Playing on his third
different team could end up being the charm for the high-flying superstar.
McGrady says he is happy to be a Rocket and that could mean trouble for the
West.

“I’m looking to end my career here in Houston,” said McGrady.