CHICAGO - Among the many who had great curiosity in Tracy McGrady's season debut Tuesday night in Houston was Knicks president Donnie Walsh, who has been in touch with the Rockets about their fading star since the summer. Count the Knicks among a very small number of teams that would be willing and able to take on McGrady's $23-million expiring contract as a one-year gamble, but don't consider them a front-runner for the former all-star guard.
Another team reportedly strongly in the mix is the Miami Heat, which could offer Jermaine O'Neal's $22.9-million expiring contract in return to give Houston some needed size in the absence of injured Yao Ming.
Aside from the obvious concerns the Knicks have about McGrady, who is making a comeback from microfracture knee surgery, the greatest hurdle in generating any success out of conversations between Walsh and Rockets general manager Daryl Morey involves the parameters of any potential deal.
The Knicks - who are owned by Cablevision, which also owns Newsday - would like to pare at least one salary off the 2010-11 ledger, but according to a person with knowledge of the situation, the Rockets "don't want to take back any money" in a trade for McGrady, which means strike Eddy Curry ($11.2 million) or Jared Jeffries ($6.8 million) from the list. And while Cuttino Mobley's expiring contract ($9.5 million) is still technically on the books, another source said Walsh will not try to use the insurance-covered salary as a sweetener in a trade scenario.
The Rockets would rather start any discussion with the Knicks with David Lee, but it is highly unlikely the Knicks would give up Lee in a McGrady deal. McGrady put in a great deal of work during the offseason with trainer Tim Grover at his facility in Chicago and is highly motivated to earn another multiyear contract this summer. But there are rumors out of Houston about McGrady's questionable work ethic and his disinterest in practice.
There wasn't much to go on in the 7:44 he played Tuesday against the Pistons - three points, three rebounds - but the Knicks don't want to give up any assets for McGrady, especially if he cannot play at a high level. They would use him at point guard, where Chris Duhon has been extremely inconsistent.
Notes & quotes: Larry Hughes did not practice Wednesday because of a strained left groin, which he hurt last week in New Orleans. He is questionable for tonight's game. If Hughes can't go, it likely means rookie Toney Douglas will take his minutes in the rotation.