Tracy McGrady might go down as one of the biggest what-if players in NBA history, but his legacy remains a relevant part of league lore. One of the best and most dynamic scorers of his generation, though, plenty of franchises around the league would court him, leading to this relatively insane story about the time he turned down the Miami Heat.
A few near-transactions during the 2000 free agency period involving the two Florida franchises could have dramatically altered the NBA landscape. Tim Duncan nearly departed the San Antonio Spurs for the Orlando Magic to team up with Grant Hill, who had just inked a six-year deal with Orlando.
When Duncan re-upped with the Spurs, the Magic pivoted to Tracy McGrady, who had averaged 15.4 PPG for the Toronto Raptors in 1999-00. In August, Orlando added the 21-year old McGrady in a sign-and-trade for a 2005 first-round pick (Fran Vazquez).
Orlando ultimately signed Tracy McGrady for seven years, $92.8 million. Although they initially declined to offer McGrady a max contract, forcing him to consider other suitors.
The Miami Heat, according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst, did their best to lure McGrady to South Beach. During a 2018 appearance on The Bill Simmons Podcast, Windhorst revealed details into Pat Riley’s extremely Miami presentation.
“They bring [Tracy McGrady] down on a private jet and they bring him to Alonzo Mourning‘s house…And they have drinks and they hang out… Zo was one of the coolest guys in the league….And all of a sudden, this speedboat pulls up. And Zo says, ‘Hey Tracy, let’s go for a ride.’… They hit go and the speedboat goes 80 miles an hour across Biscayne Bay, zapping by the arena, downtown Miami, beautiful. It pulls into Pat Riley’s house down the cove. And Riley’s standing there holding the max contract offer.”
Obviously, McGrady didn't sign the offer sheet, yet Windhorst says the Heat consider the McGrady pitch to be their best outside of the one to Gordon Hayward in 2017—who spurred them for the Boston Celtics. Riley’s most effective pitch obviously came in 2010, when he dialed back the pageantry and impressed LeBron James with a matter-of-fact ring display.
However, per the Sun-Sentinel, Riley and Mourning may have been on a fool’s errand. The Heat had “two separate sign-and-trade deals on the table to land McGrady, but the deciding factor came down to McGrady wanting to sign with Orlando, his hometown team. It’s widely suspected that McGrady was only using Miami as a bargaining chip.”
Miami instead acquired the forever underrated Eddie Jones, Anthony Mason, and Ricky Davis from the Charlotte Hornets, as well as Brian Grant from the Portland Trail Blazers. Jones put up 17.4 points per game and Mason had his best season (16.1 points, 9.6 rebounds per game). Regardless of how you feel about what might have been, this would have ended up insane Heat news — the kind we'd be talking about nonstop.
Tim Hardaway was clearly on the decline at 34 (he would be traded in 2001), while Mourning missed most of the season with kidney issues. Riley led the Heat to 50 wins, but the team could have desperately used McGrady’s youth, athleticism, and scoring punch. Miami would further decline in 2002 and start the rebuild that lead to the drafting of Dwyane Wade in 2003.
Despite Riley’s theatrics, McGrady’s preference to join his hometown team alongside Hill was understandable. He averaged 26.8 points per game in his first season for Orlando and made his first of seven consecutive All-Star games. Unfortunately, Hill would play just 47 games from 2000-2004 due to persistent ankle issues, as McGrady dropped buckets for otherwise weak teams.
The Magic fell in the first round during McGrady's first three years in town. He would be dealt to the Houston Rockets after a a 21-win campaign in 2004.
This is yet another, however, what-if scenario we can add to to the Tracy McGrady insane story archives.