ORLANDO MAGIC McGrady learning to handle failure
The seven-year veteran has tried to take on a leadership role this season.
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- Blistering honesty is how one of the NBA's brightest lights is surviving his darkest hour.
Twice already this season Tracy McGrady has publicly berated his Orlando Magic teammates, a squad with the league's worst record. Not enough shots? Not enough minutes? That's no excuse.
"Sometimes, you have to criticize your teammates," the team captain says. "If that's what it takes to bring their games out of them, for them to play better, that's what I'll do."
McGrady's seven-year career has never seen a rougher time. It's even worse than his rookie season in Toronto, when he was wracked with homesickness for sunny Florida.
During the past six months, he lost the teammate who shielded him from the burdens of superstardom, lost his jump shot, and had to slog through a horrific 19-game losing streak.
"I wasn't going to quit, but that was just how I felt," McGrady said. "I'm not going to let myself get back to that point."
Though the Magic are playing better now, McGrady is still carrying a heavy load -- far more than he has in his previous three seasons here.
Not only does a weak supporting cast force him to shoulder most of the scoring load, management's declaration that this is McGrady's team makes him responsible for policing the locker room.
Nobody looked to the 24-year-old McGrady for leadership before, leaving him free to focus on his game. That's because chatterbox point guard Darrell Armstrong was Orlando's unquestioned leader.
Armstrong is gone now, talking a mile a minute for the New Orleans Hornets. The Magic's front office let him go as a free agent last summer because they wanted to hand the team to McGrady.
Mission accomplished, but at what price?
"It was perfect," McGrady said. "We had Darrell, a veteran who was outspoken and a great leader. He spoke his mind and guys gave him respect as a leader. My job was to go out and play hard and lead by example. So we had a well-balanced situation there, but this year we're lacking that."
McGrady is still playing hard and playing well; he ranks second in the league in scoring despite career worsts in shooting accuracy and turnovers.
And he's speaking out even more often. Of course, some of his teammates aren't too happy about it.
"This is not a selfish team," second-year power forward Drew Gooden said. "We just have a lot of guys who can score the ball."
McGrady's coach appreciates his candor. Johnny Davis, who replaced the fired Doc Rivers in November, would rather have his leader be direct than hint around the problem.
"I don't think hiding behind things or whispering around the corner is the way to go," Davis said. "Be open. That's what I believe in: openness, honesty and fairness."
Yet McGrady still has some leadership lessons to learn.
The most egregious example came last month when the visiting New York Knicks delivered a beating that prompted boos from a sellout crowd. Forced to the trainer's room by a bad hip and held scoreless for the first time in his Orlando career, McGrady didn't return to the bench but left the arena.
"I think it was very frustrating for him, but I would have preferred that we all stay together," Davis said. "Even if you can't support us on the floor, you could support us on the sideline."
So it goes during McGrady's first season as captain, a season that has seen the ship sink beneath him.
"It's been difficult all year," he said. "But it's just a different challenge thrown at me that I have to overcome."