DALLAS - This is the worst part of the season. A team going nowhere, playing for nothing - not even a lottery pick - and counting down the games until it's over.
Perhaps there's at least a long road trip to warm-weather cities coming up. A chance to play some golf in Phoenix, catch some sun in Los Angeles. It was a beautiful day Saturday in Dallas, where the road trip took them to play a freight train known as the Mavericks.
Mark Cuban's team, which added Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson before the trade deadline, is looking like a championship contender, having won 13 straight entering last night. Meanwhile, this Knicks season already is over.
And that type of environment is exactly what Tracy McGrady needed. This is his intramural season, his high-level adult men's league. This is the kind of run Tim Grover couldn't put together for him at his gym in Chicago, where McGrady spent most of his time rehabilitating from microfracture surgery.
The only problem is that McGrady has to do this on a stage. His minutes are limited because of the slow process the body takes to get back to NBA shape (see: Eddy Curry). The knee, McGrady admitted after Friday's loss in Memphis, is hurting. And he's still not ready to push it the way he needs to.
"I know I'm not healthy," he said quietly. "I know I'm not healthy to go out there and be as effective as I want to be every night. It's not happening. I've got to have patience with it. I'm not going to allow myself to get discouraged and not believe that it's going to be better. I really truly think it is."
He comes off as apathetic to the losing and somewhat disconnected from the players who also wear the same jersey. It's hard to call anyone a teammate when you're hardly a part of things. He tried early on to be somewhat of a savior, to step into games and try to take over as a go-to guy. But it was futile. And demoralizing.
"It's quite difficult, going from where I used to be to seeing how I am out there," he said. "It's difficult."
While on the floor, McGrady tries to be a facilitator and does what he can on defense (he often looks to block shots). Mike D'Antoni tried him at point guard to use his passing skills, but he had to scrap that plan because McGrady just didn't push the ball upcourt enough to create more transition offense.
Mostly, it's clear that even when McGrady does get a step on his man, he isn't getting to the rim the way he used to. And he said it's not because he can't; it's because he says the knee doesn't feel ready.
"That's why it's so hard for me to attack the basket, because I'm just not that confident in it," McGrady said. "It's going to take time. Maybe one game I go in there and try to explode in there and dunk and nothing happens. It's just going to take time for me to get that confidence in my leg, which I don't have right now."
There's not much time left in the season for him to get it, but though free agency awaits him this summer, McGrady isn't worried about how his value will be affected by what he looks like on the court right now.
"I don't think I really have to go out there and show that I'm my old self," he said. "I think just being healthy is the concern. Once I'm healthy, my game is going to be there."