Can T-Mac Bounce Back?

In case you’ve been living under a rock or something, the word out of Houston on Tuesday night was that Rockets star Tracy McGrady is once again going to miss a large chunk of games due to injury — in fact, T-Mac’s going to need microfracture surgery and will be out for the remainder of the 2009 season. That will make for 47 missed games by the time the book closes on this year, bringing the grand total to 109 games missed by McGrady over the past 4 seasons.

Since the sample of players to undergo microfracture surgery is small (Chris Webber, Jason Kidd, John Stockton, Amare Stoudemire, Kenyon Martin, Zach Randolph, Brian Grant, Antonio McDyess, Chris Webber, Allan Houston, Penny Hardaway, Jamal Mashburn, Darius Miles, Doug Christie, Terrell Brandon, Greg Oden, etc.) and somewhat inconclusive, I want to find another subset of players: those who have been as chronically-injured over a 4-year span as McGrady has been since 2005-06. So I set out looking for players since the NBA-ABA merger who, like T-Mac, played at least 36 minutes per game and missed at least 109 games in a 4-year stretch of time. We’ll see how many of them were able to come back from such a catastrophic stretch and be contributors again, which may in turn give us a read on how much McGrady has left in the tank.

Baron Davis, 111 games missed, 2003-06 (Age 26)
The Injury: B. Diddy is downright McGradyesque in terms of having a wide variety of different injuries in a short time… He suffered from back spasms, torn cartilage in his left knee, and sprains & bruises in both ankles during these 4 seasons.
The Aftermath: Davis continued to suffer from various injuries in 06-07, culminating in knee surgery in February 2007, but he recovered in time to lead the Warriors in the playoffs and he (miraculously) played all 82 games in 2008. This season, though, he’s missed 14 games already thanks to a brusied tailbone suffered in January.

Jamal Mashburn, 111 games missed, 2001-04 (Age 31)
The Injury: Mashburn, who had already missed a staggering 137 games from 1996-99, was dinged up for most of the 2nd half of 2001, and missed 42 games in 01-02 with a bizarre virus. Then, in October 2003, Mashburn badly damaged his right knee and had to undergo the same microfracture procedure as McGrady.
The Aftermath: Mashburn missed 63 games in 03-04 and sat out all of 04-05 in hopes of making a comeback, but he was unable to overcome his knee problems to play in the NBA again.

Pete Maravich, 113 games missed, 1977-1980 (Age 32)
The Injury: Pistol Pete led the league in scoring in 1976-77, but the following season he began battling a serious knee injury — and his inner demons.
The Aftermath: After missing 32, 33, & 39 games in ’78, ’79, & ’80 respectively, Maravich retired in 1980 as a member of the Boston Celtics and began a personal journey that ended with him finally finding peace in Christianity.

Bob McAdoo, 115 games missed, 1978-81 (Age 29)
The Injury: McAdoo was a truly brilliant basketball player early in his career (even winning league MVP honors in 1975), but by 1979 he had begun to suffer from a string of injuries that would largely characterize the latter part of his career.
The Aftermath: McAdoo continued to battle various ailments (including knee problems) until he retired in 1986; between 1978-79 and his final season, he missed a full 269 games due to injury. Despite the injuries, though, McAdoo was an important role player on 2 NBA champions and 4 NBA Finalists with the Los Angeles Lakers during the “second act” of his career.

Chris Webber, 116 games missed, 1995-98 (Age 25)
The Injury: When C-Webb dislocated his shoulder in December 1994, it cost him 28 games in 94-95 and a whopping 67 in 95-96.
The Aftermath: Webber had surgery on the shoulder in early 1996, and he came back relatively healthy. He would miss only 48 games between 96-97 and 2001-02, when he began to be slowed by recurring ankle and knee problems.

Chris Mullin, 140 games missed, 1993-96 (Age 32)
The Injury: After a successful run as the “C” in “Run-TMC”, a variety of inuries began to slow Mullin in 1993. In 1994-95, he badly strained his left knee and hamstring, and severely sprained his left ankle shortly upon returning from IR, costing him 57 games in all. And in 1996, it was a torn finger ligament that shut Mullin’s year down with 26 games left in the regular season.
The Aftermath: Despite being tagged as “injury-prone,” Mullin would miss only 3 games over the next 3 seasons for Golden State and Indiana. His history of leg injuries (in addition to a creaky back) would catch up to him in 2000, however, and Mullin would retire following the 2001 season.

Larry Bird, 142 games missed, 1989-92 (Age 35)
The Injury: Even Legends succumb to father time eventually. Bird had missed only 27 total games in his first 9 seasons, but he was sidelined for 76 games in 88-89 after surgery to remove bone spurs from his feet. He would rebound to play 75 games in 1990, but increasingly debilitating back problems cost Bird 59 games over his final 2 seasons.
The Aftermath: Unable to play effectively through the back pain, Bird retired in 1992. His final competitive games were as a member of the 1992 Olympic Dream Team in Barcelona.

Derrick Coleman, 145 games missed, 1995-98 (Age 30)
The Injury: The #1 overall pick in the 1990 draft, DC came to Philadelphia with the “clubhouse cancer” label already attached, but it was with the Sixers that he added the “injury-prone” tag. An assortment of maladies ranging from the nagging variety (sprained wrists/ankles, calf bruises, lacerated fingers) to the more exotic (irregular heartbeats, chipped pelvic bones) saw Coleman sit out 145 games between 94-95 & 97-98.
The Aftermath: Aside from a 2-year stretch in ’99 and 2000 in which he missed “only” 21 games, Coleman was never really able to stay healthy for any extended period of time throughout his career. He only played 70+ games in 4 seasons, and would retire a Detroit Piston in 2005.

Grant Hill, 154 games missed, 1999-2002 (Age 29)
The Injury: Hill had been the picture of health during his Detroit days, missing only 25 games in his first 6 years. Then, shortly after signing a lucrative multiyear contract with the Orlando Magic (alongside McGrady of all people), Hill suffered a terrible recurring ankle injury that shelved him for 146 combined games between November 2000 and April 2002.
The Aftermath: If we drop the 36 MPG requirement, the most games Hill missed in any 4-year span was a staggering 214 between 2001 and 2005, as his stubborn left ankle injury required surgery after season-ending surgery. The good news for Hill is that he eventually worked his way back and managed to suit up for 65 games in 06-07, 70 last season, and every single one of the Suns’ 52 games so far this year (cross your fingers).

Penny Hardaway, 163 games missed, 1998-2001 (Age 29)
The Injury: Once regarded as a potential heir to Michael Jordan’s throne as the best player in basketball, a balky left leg torpedoed Penny’s ’98 campaign. He would play in all 50 Magic games during the lockout season of 1999, but instead of forming “Backcourt 2000” with Jason Kidd in Phoenix the following year, Hardaway struggled with plantar fasciaitis in ’00 and underwent microfracture surgery in 2001, costing him 78 games.
The Aftermath: Penny was never the same after the procedure. First, his production declined; then upon being dealt to the New York Knicks his legs gave out, resulting in 123 games missed in 2005 & 2006. He attempted a comeback in 2008 with the Heat, but it only lasted 16 games.

Michael Dickerson, 166 games missed, 2000-03 (Age 27)
The Injury: A member of Arizona’s 1997 National Championship team, Dickerson looked like he could be a decent contributor/rotation regular until repeated groin and hamstring injuries cost him 154 games in 2002 & ’03.
The Aftermath: Robbed of his athleticism, Dickerson was waived by Memphis in October 2003, and a comeback attempt with the Cavs in 2008 never got off the ground.

Jeff Ruland, 181 games missed, 1984-87 (Age 28)
The Injury: A good young big man, Ruland had been the Bullets’s starting center for scarcely two seasons before a Bill Walton-esque spate of foot injuries sidelined him for 174 games between 1985 & 1987.
The Aftermath: Ruland attempted to play through the pain of his foot injuries, but appearances in the lineup became increasingly rare events. Traded to Philadelphia in 1986, matters got worse when Ruland badly injured his left knee. He would retire following the 1987 season, having missed 181 games over the previous 4 years. He attempted a comeback with the 76ers (and later the Pistons) in 1992, but in 2 seasons it yielded only 24 GP, and Ruland retired for good in 1993.

So, what can we learn about T-Mac from these (mostly) tragic tales? Unfortunately, we see that players who have sat out the amount of time that McGrady will have missed come next season almost never return to full form. Additionally, oft-injured players like this tend to stay oft-injured for the rest of their careers — their durability problems only get worse, not better. Finally, we observe that while some try to press on as shells of their former selves, many of these players’ careers are essentially over after being shelved for so long. The only good news for McGrady is that he’s only 29 years old, so there’s still some time left for him to possibly get back to his old self. But it seems like a long shot at this point. Another year, another injury for T-Mac… but this could be the one that places his career in real jeopardy.

About Neil Paine

I work for I've been a freelance writer for ESPN, Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, and Basketball Prospectus.

Posted on February 19, 2009, in History. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. t-mac has always been injury prone. a hell of a talent but i see more of the same.

  2. As a Rockets fan, I can say that right now McGrady is a huge asset to the team. That’s because New York, Miami, Cleveland, Detroit and any other club that wants 2010 cap space will be interested in his contract. As for his bill of health, I was skeptical of him coming to HOU. Who’s heard of a 26 year old with back problems? He can be a solid veteran role player, but his days of scoring 13 points in the last 35 seconds of games is over.

  3. So you’re saying he’s basically crossed over into the Theo Ratliff memorial “Walking Contract” stage of his career?

  4. Hi buddy would it be ok if we took some info from here to use on one of my websites? cheers mate

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