The curse of Tracy McGrady has claimed its latest victim.
What’s that you say? You aren’t familiar with the curse of Tracy McGrady? Oh, well, take a seat and allow me to tell you a tale of how McGrady and the dark arts have engulfed the Toronto Raptors for the past seventeen years.
The curse was laid down on August 3rd, 2000, when McGrady officially left Toronto to become a member of the Orlando Magic. That story is well-covered territory, but the event didn’t just deprive the Raptors of McGrady’s prodigious talents. No, it also put a curse on any player the Raptors would attempt to replace him with. McGrady didn’t just leave and become a seven-time All-Star, he salted the earth behind him so that nothing could grow in his stead.
Unconvinced? Don’t believe in curses? Well, let’s walk you through the grizzly history of which I speak.
Williamson had been a standout small forward in Sacramento for five years before being traded to Toronto for Doug Christie. He was a hulking forward, in the mold of the kinds of players that the Raptors were looking to surround superstar Vince Carter with (Antonio Davis, Charles Oakley, Kevin Willis), and he could score efficiently, to boot. Unfortunately, he would prove to be totally ineffective once hit by the McGrady curse, posting his worst season since his rookie year in points, shooting percentage and rebounding. The Raptors traded him to Detroit after just 42 games, and while they got fan-favorite Jerome Williams in return, Williamson’s game was rediscovered with the Pistons, and he won the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2002 (the only Piston to ever do so).
Lamond Murray was an impressive get for Toronto in the summer of 2002, and one of the cruelest victims of McGrady’s curse. He was not only a standout small forward, coming off of an impressive 16.6 ppg season (on 42% three point shooting) in Cleveland, but he was also the return for one of the worst contracts in the team’s early history (Michael ‘Yogi’ Stewart). However, Murray tore a ligament in his right foot during preseason and wound up missing the entirety of the regular season. Murray was a shell of his former self when he returned to the court, averaging 6 ppg over the next two seasons on sub-40% shooting. He was out of the league shortly thereafter.
Don’t remember Michael Curry? Well, when Kevin O’Neil was brought in for his disastrous one-year stint as head coach, he was tasked with fixing up the team’s putrid defence, which to him meant starting the season with newly-acquired Curry as the team’s small forward. Curry was a defensive-minded veteran from the Pistons that the Raptors acquired in the summer of 2003 for point guard Linsey Hunter. Unfortunately, by age 35, the game had passed him by, and he was unable to make much of a difference to the team’s defence. He was, however, able to make his mark on offence, by shooting a ghastly 38% from the floor and making himself all but unplayable. While the team would finish the season 6th in opponent’s field goal percentage, they themselves ranked 28th in shooting. Curry was out of the starting five within 15 games and O’Neil was out as coach after one season.
If there was an opposite to the ‘defense-first’ player that Curry (once) was, then it was Jalen Rose, the man that effectively replaced him. Rose was a unrepentant gunner who notched a .529 True Shooting Percentage in 177 games with the Raptors and was one of the most indifferent defensive players the team has ever paid. Rose always felt like a desperation move by Glenn Grunwald, a Hail Mary play to save his job as the team’s GM. He was a pseudo-star that he could pair with Vince Carter and evoke what it might have been like if he’d been able to retain McGrady four years earlier. Instead, what he got was an indifferent very-much-not-a-star-player making more money than Carter and a one-way ticket out of the executive suite that summer.
Rafael Araujo/Charlie Villanueva/Joey Graham
Yes, only one of those players is a small forward, but Raptors fans with any pedigree know where this one is going. In back-to-back drafts (2004 and 2005), the Toronto Raptors were led by Rob Babcock and he selected these three players in the first round (the team had two picks in 2005). To do so, they famously passed on Andre Iguodala and Danny Granger. While Granger would see his career cut short by injury, even he would have given the Raptors much more than that threesome ever could. Either one of those players could have made a tremendous impact during the Chris Bosh era in Toronto. Graham, the lone small forward in the bunch, was a tantalizing physical specimen that could not have been less interested in being an impactful basketball player. The Raptors toyed with the idea of him as the small forward of the future for four years before finally letting him walk at the end of his rookie contract.
Garbo was one of the brightest finds in Bryan Colangelo’s first summer as the Raptors’ GM. A rugged Spanish forward making his NBA debut at age 29, Garbajosa was a savvy and essential part of what was the best regular season the Raptors had had to date. Then, in a late-March contest against the sad sack Boston Celtics, Garbajosa attempted to block an Al Jefferson dunk with five minutes left in the game, landed wrong, and broke his left leg. The team never recovered, he was too essential to their very personality, and Garbajosa’s NBA career was effectively over. Colangelo would cite that injury for years to come as a derailing event, his great ‘what if?’ of the Chris Bosh era.
After the Garbajosa injury, Colangelo felt the team needed to replace his outside shooting in the starting lineup. That summer he lavished the full mid-level exception on Kapono, a standout three-point shooter from a system in Miami that was far better equipped to provide him with open outside looks. Kapono lasted seven games as a starter in 2007, and while he shot a league-high 48.3% from three that season, he did it on less than half the attempts that he had managed with the Heat (3.1 versus 1.5 per game). He also proved to be a horrendous defender when he didn’t have Shaquille O’Neal, Udonis Haslem, and Alonzo Mourning playing behind him. Not only was Kapono painfully ineffective, the team already had standout three-point shooters in Jose Calderon and Anthony Parker and was in desperate need of rebounding in the front court. Kapono clogged Toronto’s cap for two years before being traded to Philadelphia for fan favorite, Reggie Evans.
Shawn Marion was a former All-Star and, in many ways, the ideal small forward for Toronto’s team. In fact, he’s probably the most effectively player on this list after Garbajosa. However, he had no interest in playing for a lottery-bound club and bolted as soon as free agency hit. That’s not so bad, though, right? Of all of the cursed players on this list, he seems the least actually cursed. Well, that is until you remember that the trade that brought him to Toronto sent Jermaine O’Neal, who had one extra year at $23-million on his contract, to Miami. That contract helped Pat Riley amass an expiring contract bonanza that would give him the ability to sign Chris Bosh away from Toronto the following summer. Oops.
The Raptors were blessed with cap space in the one summer where there weren’t great players to spend it on. They chased the ‘best’ of the class, which was former Most Improved Player Turkoglu, and they got him despite a supposed deal already being in place with Portland. It wouldn’t take the Blazers long to breathe a sigh of relief, though, as Turkoglu was a terrible fit in Toronto and basically shut it down after landing his big payday of $56-million (remember how quaint ‘big payday’s’ were eight years ago?). Turkoglu was a point forward that needed the ball in his hands to be effective. Toronto already had Calderon, who also needed the ball in his hands to be effective. Turkoglu sulked. He was traded after one year for Leandro Barbosa.
Linas Kleiza/Sonny Weems/James Johnson/Julian Wright/Alan Anderson/Rasual Butler
To replace Turkoglu, the Raptors threw a four-year, $20-million offer sheet at Denver Nuggets bench player, Linas Kleiza. Kleiza, however, wasn’t able to lock-down the starting spot, and the team bounced around for the next two seasons trying several different options at the small forward spot. There is no great curse story that applies to any one of these options, merely that, taken in total, they were so painfully mediocre that one could be convinced that the next guy could be an improvement over this group.
In an attempt to secure the last years of Steve Nash’s career, Bryan Colangelo attempted to handcuff New York’s cap space by inking Landry Fields to a rich offer sheet. Well, Nash went to the Lakers, New York didn’t match Toronto’s offer, and Fields became a Raptors. Unfortunately, Fields also had nerve damage in his right arm, and multiple surgeries were never able to correct it. Like Murray and Garbajosa before him, Fields’ career was effectively over after being hit by the McGrady curse.
This was Colangelo’s “Jalen Rose trade” – his Hail Mary to save his job in Toronto. He threw all of the chips that he had into a pseudo-star that clashed stylistically with DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. All three were ball-dominant players, and they never meshed on the court. Gay never shot better than 42% as a member of the Raptors, and his 17.6 shot attempts per game were far better distributed elsewhere on the roster. When Gay arrived, he was also making more than the next two highest-paid Raptors combined ($16.5-million versus $10-million for Andrea Bargnani and $6.3-million for Landry Fields). When Masai Ujiri was brought in that offseason to replace Colangelo, one of his first orders of business was to get out from under that burdensome contract.
So, as you can see, Carroll is just the latest member of a coterie of players that have made up Toronto’s cursed position. He was lavished with a rich contract to act as the 3-and-D counterpart to DeMar DeRozan on the wing, but his nagging injury issues prevented him from ever replicating his breakout year in Atlanta. Also, his four-year, $60-million contract was signed (like many were over the previous two offseasons) under the presumption that the salary cap would grow far larger than it actually did. Once the Raptors paid DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, Carroll became a cap burden that was preventing the team from improving, and it took two draft picks to unload him.
There are two names conspicuously absent from this list, and that’s Morris Peterson and Terrence Ross. The thing is, neither one was brought in with the expectation that they would solve the team’s small forward problem, like so many others on this list were. Instead, these draftees were the ones left to clean up after all of these mistakes. They were the ones conscripted into duty when it served the needs of the team, when one of these ‘saviors’ proved to be unable to live up to their expectations. Both did yeoman’s work to fill-in while never actually being trusted to handle the position full-time, and so both were effectively spared from the curse. Look for Norman Powell to join their ranks.
So, looking at the names on this list, it’s hard to come to any other conclusion than McGrady cursed his position on his way out of town. From grizzly injuries to cap-crippling trades to plain ol’ ineffective play, Toronto’s small forward position has been a mess ever since McGrady bolted for Orlando. If you have any decency in your heart, you will say a prayer for whatever man is pushed into this position next, because he’s about to see his career hit a brick wall as Toronto’s starting small forward.