Now and Then: Duncan, McGrady’s paths finally align over a decade after Orlando came calling

Duncan and McGradyThings were different then.

But now, a four-time NBA champion and soon-to-be Hall-of-Famer is at the tail end of his career instead of being in the middle of his prime.

Now, a former perennial All-Star, two-time scoring champ and highlight machine is back in the NBA after debilitating knee injuries took him on several short-lived NBA stops and a stint in China.

And now, Tim Duncan and Tracy McGrady are finally together.

In the summer of 2000, way before LeBron, Wade and Bosh came together, another trio was expected to form the first super team. Duncan, McGrady and Grant Hill were considered the blue chips of the free agent class.

The Doc Rivers-coached Orlando Magic, armed with a boatload of cap space, a newly-built practice facility, the Isleworth community and all the allure of the Magic Kingdom, didn’t want to just land one, they wanted to land all three players and were considered the favorites to do so.

San Antonio, not to mention the entire Spurs brass, were on pins and needles all summer, and even David Robinson left his vacation in Hawaii to try to persuade Duncan to stay in San Antonio.

Although he was reportedly very close to signing with the Magic, even saying several years ago that it was much closer a decision than most know, Duncan gave San Antonio a reason to exhale as he re-signed with the Spurs on August 1, 2000.

“Orlando has a lot to offer. I went down there and had a good time. There’s some great people down there but I’ve decided to stay here,” Duncan said then. “When it came down to it, I just liked what I had here.”

While there was originally talk and rumors that Duncan’s re-signing could net the Spurs McGrady at a bargain basement price, the Spurs had free agents of their own to sign, signed Derek Anderson and had to pay Duncan’s handsome new contract, so while Duncan returned, McGrady and Hill opted for Orlando.

Duncan, of course, went on to win three more championships, while the McGrady-Hill duo never lived up to its potential. Hill was sidelined with ankle injuries and McGrady, after increasing his regular season scoring average by more than 10 points per game in his first season, tried to put a lackluster Magic team on his back during the playoffs.

Tracy McGradyWhile he averaged over 33 points per game in the playoffs, that year would be the start to the playoff choke jokes with McGrady unable to get any of his teams past the first round of the playoffs. Even when Hill finally rejoined McGrady, the pair couldn’t do enough to get the Magic out of the first round and McGrady was shipped off to Houston in 2004.

Unreached potential can often be a man’s biggest nightmare, and that was likely true for McGrady. His decision to join the Magic likely negatively affected his career most, regardless of the fact that Hill spent more time in suits than sneakers.

McGrady was expected to be part of another powerful duo in Houston with Yao Ming, but injuries to the Chinese center kept McGrady from reaching his championship potential yet again, and knee injuries have done their best to assure that regardless of individual awards, McGrady would be remembered more for being a one-and-done player.

The potential and what-ifs of what he and the Magic could have done with Duncan and a healthy Hill are enough to drive even the sanest of men crazy.

Asked back in 2010 about what could have been, and how many championships that trio could’ve had, it was clear McGrady had more than a few dreams — or nightmares — on the subject.

“Enough to where I would have been satisfied (with my career). It’s definitely the hole in my career,” McGrady said then.

Duncan, McGrady and Hill were expected to rival the Shaq and Kobe-led Lakers of the early 2000s. While Duncan’s decision, which likely kept the Spurs in San Antonio, derailed those plans, fate has a funny way of working things out – albeit over a decade late.

Duncan and McGrady will be together in silver and black when the Spurs take on the Lakers for the start of the first round of the playoffs on Sunday afternoon.

While Duncan is no longer considered a top five player in the league and McGrady is no longer young enough to be considered on the cusp of greatness as was the case in 2000, almost 13 years later, the goal remains the same.

Now, Duncan has a chance to bookend his career with his fifth championship and McGrady has the chance to get out of the first round and win the championship that has eluded him his entire career.

While 2000 gave both players the opportunity to be part of something special to fill their NBA stories with, 2013 gives these thirty-somethings a chance to close two slightly different stories with an exclamation point.

About Michael A. De Leon

Michael founded Project Spurs in 2004. He started The Spurscast, the first Spurs podcast on the Internet, in 2005. Michael has been interviewed by the BBC, SportTalk, the Sports Reporters Radio Show, MemphisSportLive, OKC Sports Wrap and ESPN radio among others. He is a credentialed member of the media for the San Antonio Spurs and Austin Toros. He is also the founder of Project Spurs' sister sites, Toros Nation and Stars Hoops.

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