Houston fans will have to get used to seeing these two sitting on the bench beside each other again. With it being announced that Yao Ming will miss the remainder of the playoffs due to a broken foot, the Rockets dream of a championship this season has crashed and burned. And a playoff series that was just recently hyped in this space as must-see-TV has become about as compelling as a Friends rerun.
This really shouldn’t come as a surprise though. Yao hasn’t played a full 82 since 03/04. McGrady has never. The thing I’ve always wondered is why? Why are certain players always injured? Why was Bill Walton’s playing career AND broadcasting career cut short by injury?
My knee-jerk reaction is to chalk it up to toughness, or rather, the lack thereof. While that is probably the case with many players with minor injuries, you can’t really fake a broken bone or a knee requiring microfracture surgery. Is it due to a player’s style of play? For players like Gerald Wallace and Dwyane Wade, who use their bodies as wrecking balls, probably. His physical makeup? Big guys like Walton and Yao tend to have the foot problems, so possibly. Or are some guys just snakebitten, like McGrady, doomed for eternity to the injury list and the first round of the playoffs?
Whatever the reasons for the injuries, Houston finds themselves with a dynamic, damaged duo in Yao and T-Mac. And they need to get rid of one – or both – of them to improve their championship odds. After five seasons together, and only one appearance in the second round of the playoffs, Yao and McGrady have proven that they aren’t capable of carrying a team to a championship, alone or together. And considering they will make a combined $40 million next season, expecting a championship as a return on that investment isn’t an unreasonable demand.
They probably won’t want to get rid of Yao, because even if he isn’t going to win you a championship, he does bring a financial windfall to the team. But they really should consider shipping him out. If the man can’t stay healthy while in his 20s, there is no way he’s going to when he hits 30. Despite his injury concerns, quality big men are at such a premium that Houston should find plenty of suitors for him.
McGrady, on the other hand, is definitely expendable and will be coveted by some teams this offseason. This isn’t due to his skills – oft-injured 30-year-olds coming off microfracture surgery aren’t in high demand – but rather his expiring $23 million contract. Coming off the books just in time for the much-hyped 2010 free agent class, McGrady should be a very popular guy next season. If Houston can’t find suitable compensation for him, they may decide to write off next season, keep McGrady and take their chances on landing one of the 2010 big fish free agents once T-Mac is off their payroll.
Either way, the Yao–McGrady experiment has to come to an end.