Hawks show uncharacteristic sensibility with signing of Tracy McGrady

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Teams aren’t technically allowed to come to agreements with free agents just yet, but Tracy McGrady is reportedly locked in to join the Atlanta Hawks nonetheless. But, before anyone engages in the usual snark-fest that ensues whenever McGrady’s name comes up, they should honestly consider the terms and return on this deal.

McGrady may not have the ability to dribble-penetrating ability that Atlanta so desperately needs, but he’s an incredibly cost-efficient addition capable of hedging against the seemingly inevitable loss of Jamal Crawford. The Hawks aren’t in a position where re-signing Crawford makes financial sense; they already have $66 million in salary committed for this season and $62 million committed next year, meaning that Crawford’s deal would likely push a solid — but firmly non-contending — team over the luxury tax line. Even beyond the practical consideration of overpaying a dwindling, inefficient scorer like Crawford, the financial realities for a tax-averse team like Atlanta make a re-signing a virtual impossibility.

Such is the reality for a franchise that presented Joe Johnson with a golden effigy on the first day of free agency last season, invested in Marvin Williams to the tune of $8 million a year, and took every shortcut there is to take in team construction.

All of which makes McGrady — who will join the Hawks on a one-year, minimum salary deal — an oddly reasonable signing. McGrady didn’t score quite as much as Crawford did last season, but that’s largely because he didn’t dominate the ball in the fashion Crawford often does. The hazard of employing Crawford is the same as it’s ever been: he tends to control the ball whether his team intends for him to or not, and they’re forced to live with the ill-advised jumpers that seem to always result. McGrady is a bit more prudent, as he used significantly fewer possessions while making a greater percentage of his shots than Crawford last season. The scoring output wasn’t the same on a per-game basis, but McGrady’s rounder skill set (he averaged 5.4 assists and 5.4 rebounds per 36 minutes last season) helps to off-set some of what Atlanta will lose in pure scoring volume.

Thanks to his age and injury history, McGrady is an easy target for criticism. But he actually put together a pretty solid — if quiet — campaign for the Detroit Pistons last season, complete with a bit of a defensive turnaround. McGrady’s defensive reputation is rather putrid, but last season he held his positional opposites to a below average Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and made a dramatic difference in his team’s defensive performance*. That one-year performance could be a bit flukey, but regardless, I find it hard to believe that McGrady could possibly be a lesser perimeter defender than Crawford.

For the league minimum, this is very likely the best the Hawks could possibly do. McGrady isn’t what he once was (and certainly isn’t Crawford), but this is a smart, economical move for a team with such a cluttered cap sheet.

(H/T to ESPN.com’s Tom Haberstroh)