Auburn Hills — The dark moments are still fresh in the memory of new Pistons swingman Tracy McGrady.
He’s worked through the moments of deep doubt, wondering privately if his All-Star career would be cut short by a serious left knee injury and microfracture surgery. McGrady admits he shed tears, expressing both fear and frustration over his body betraying him yet again.
But this McGrady, the strong and healthy player who made his first appearance in a Pistons uniform on the eve of training camp, states the doubts are over.
“It took more work than I can even describe to get to stand here right now,” McGrady said Monday, exclusively to Fox Sports Detroit. “I went through hell and back. I had a lot of questions about if I could get back here. I got through those dark places and spaces, and I am here ready to go. I know there are doubters about me, about this team, about everything.
“I like that. Let them doubt. Let them overlook the Pistons and Detroit, the rest of the country is always doing that. Let them watch the other teams in the NBA and forget about me and this team. We’re going to sneak up on all of them and bite them in the ass.”
McGrady, 31, has missed most of the past two seasons dealing with his knee. He had microfracture surgery on Feb. 24, 2009, while he was part of the Rockets. He was still rehabbing when he was shipped to the Knicks on Feb. 18, 2010, as part of a three-team trade.
He came to the Pistons as a free agent over the summer, signing a one-year deal for the veteran’s minimum of $1.35 million.
McGrady joked that he’s 31, but is really 29 because he essentially hasn’t played in two seasons.
The Pistons hope they will get a game McGrady, the one who is a seven-time All Star and averaged 21.5 points per game over 13 seasons.
Nobody knows what McGrady will bring to the Pistons. There is a log-jam of swingmen, with veterans Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince competing for playing time with McGrady.
Coach John Kuester wants the players to fight it out during camp, saying all spots are up for grabs.
“I like it that way. It’s going to be good for all of us to compete,” Prince, the Pistons’ customary starter at small forward, said. “It’s going to bring out the best in all of us.”
Can McGrady’s body withstand the punishment of two practices per day, plus the added competition from Hamilton and Prince?
The Pistons training staff, especially strength and conditioning coach Arnie Kander, will keep a very close eye on McGrady. Kander has seen McGrady in his prime, remembering the 2003 Eastern Conference playoff series where McGrady was single-handedly killing the Pistons.
He thinks McGrady can get back to being a dominant player.
“It’s a process, a journey, and I’ve been talking with Tracy a lot about having the wisdom of knowing when to push his body and when to dial it back a bit,” Kander said. “You can do a whole lot of damage in a short time if you do things that your body isn’t prepared for yet.
“Tracy is one of those special guys where the game came real easy. He maybe didn’t have to work as hard as others, not that he wasn’t willing to, but it all came so naturally to him. It’s only natural to get frustrated when things just don’t come like you remembered. You have to keep the positive thought that they will come, they are coming, but you have to let them evolve in their own time.”
McGrady admitted he has been frustrated at times this summer, as Kander’s workouts are different than what he is used to. The two were working on a shooting drill recently, and McGrady wanted to do his usual speedy rendition — something he’s done a thousand times in his career.
Kander told him to chill a bit, not go so hard, and McGrady responded with a few seconds of anger. Kander wants McGrady to release his frustration, then quickly refocus.
“Arnie took the ball away from me and sent me to my corner,” McGrady said with a smile. “I do have to learn patience, and he’s teaching me that for sure. I want this so bad, I am so excited, that I just want to go and hit it hard.
“It’s a long season and I have to be smart. There is no reason I can’t be the player I was in the past, even better.”