- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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Tracy McGrady has been cleared to take an indefinite leave from the Houston Rockets after the former All-Star's representatives and Rockets management agreed to work together in search of a trade for the disgruntled guard.
Sources close to the process told ESPN.com that multiple phone discussions Monday between Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and coach Rick Adelman, in conjunction with McGrady's lead agent, Arn Tellem, led to a mutual agreement that both sides would try to hatch a workable trade before the league's annual trading deadline on Feb. 18.
"After multiple conversations with Tracy and his representatives, we have agreed to look into trade opportunities and have granted him an indefinite leave from team activities," Morey said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon.
McGrady was allowed to return to Houston during the weekend as the team completed a road trip, when his request for increased minutes in his comeback from microfracture knee surgery was denied by Adelman.
Adelman said before Tuesday's game against New Orleans that McGrady never progressed to the point where he was ready to increase his minutes.
"He's been hurt for over a year," Adelman said. "The thing that people want to write about is who he was two years ago, and he isn't that right now. We have a whole team here and it's not just about what he wants or what he was going to want, or what was going to happen. It was about what can he do to help us win, and that was the bottom line to me."
Houston was off to a surprising 18-13 start heading into Tuesday's game against New Orleans, and Adelman said it became increasingly clear that McGrady didn't fit with the Rockets or the up-tempo style they're playing.
"He wanted to play, he wanted to push it," Adelman said. "Unfortunately, you've got to deal with the whole group, not just one individual. He's coming back from major surgery, he's rehabilitating and who knows when he's going to get there. Right now, he wasn't there.
"I don't think the explosiveness was there," Adelman said. "He didn't get to the basket like he used to, he didn't have that first step where he could blow by people. It wasn't unexpected to me, but we don't know what timetable he has or if it's going to come back."
When McGrady's camp pressed Monday for firm promises about when his playing time would be extended -- McGrady has averaged just 7.7 minutes in his six appearances this season -- sources say that the Rockets were not prepared to make any such commitments, leading both sides to conclude that combining their efforts to try to facilitate a trade was the best option.
"Tracy is now healthy and is looking forward to contributing to a team this season," Tellem said in a statement on Tuesday. "He is an incredible talent and a relentless competitor; any team will be most fortunate to have him."
The Rockets, according to sources with knowledge of the team's thinking, refuse to consider buying out the remainder of McGrady's $22.483 million expiring contract, which would enable him to become a free agent.
One source said that the Rockets' anti-buyout stance is so deeply rooted that they plan to keep him on the payroll even if a deal can't be struck before the trading deadline.
McGrady would have to be waived by March 1 in order to qualify for another team's playoff roster.
Sources said that the sides have agreed for now that the best compromise is allowing McGrady to leave the team to work out on his own and stay ready in case a deal can be struck. The Rockets, meanwhile, will be hoping that McGrady's departure will spare his teammates and coaches from the distraction of daily questions about the two-time scoring champion's status.
"We just keep going," Rockets guard Aaron Brooks told The Houston Chronicle. "Everybody has a job to do. It's the same old story. Nothing changes.
"We always wish the best for Tracy. We can't do anything about what goes on with them. You [media] guys are about the only ones talking about it. We don't talk about it. We let that happen. We let it play out. We might joke about it. We might joke about the media talking about it. That's about it."
Neither McGrady nor his agents could immediately be reached Monday.
The reality is that McGrady will be difficult to move, even with Tellem and fellow agent Bob Myers now officially cleared to seek out trade possibilities with other teams. The Rockets are one of the few teams in the league -- in this depressed economy -- willing to take back long-term money to get a player they like, such as Golden State's Anthony Randolph or Sacramento's Kevin Martin. But most potential trading partners have to aggregate so many contracts to get to McGrady's salary range that it's difficult to construct a deal that doesn't require Houston to take back one or more unpalatable deals.
ESPN.com reported Saturday that the Washington Wizards had reached out to the Rockets in an exploratory manner about a possible Gilbert Arenas-for-McGrady swap, but Houston has no interest in such a deal. Arenas ranks as one of the league's most difficult players to move with four seasons left after this one on a mammoth $111 million contract and a history of knee problems to rival McGrady's.
It's conceivable that Houston's trade options could expand once the trading deadline draws closer, but the agreement to let McGrady leave the team immediately eases some pressure on Adelman, who was admittedly struggling to find openings to work a rusty McGrady into a rotation that has been so successful without the seven-time All-Star and injured center Yao Ming.
"I don't blame any player for saying I want more, and that's basically what [McGrady] wants, and right now I'm not sure how to do that," Adelman told reporters on Saturday in New Jersey.
In February, doctors said McGrady would need up to 12 months to fully heal. Adelman said he stuck to that timeline all along, figuring McGrady still needed a month or more. He said McGrady wanted to accelerate that timeline, and that led to the impasse over playing time.
"I had to make that decision as to when to bring him back," Adelman said. "We looked at it, and he wasn't satisfied with that, so we decided to go this way. We'll see what happens now."
Although he was healthy enough to play in only 35 games last season, McGrady insists that his next team will be getting a steal no matter what his modest numbers suggest -- he's averaging just 3.2 points on 7-for-19 shooting in his brief cameos -- and in spite of ongoing concerns about his surgically repaired knee.
"Whoever gets me is going to get a hungry ... player," McGrady told the Chronicle. "I don't care if I go to the damn moon. It doesn't matter. I've been hungry since I came back from my surgery.
"I rededicated myself, refocused, moved to Chicago, worked out the whole summer there. It was every day just grinding, just pushing. I'm not even supposed to be playing right now, so that really tells you how hard I've been working. I wasn't supposed to be playing until January or February. If you asked anybody who had [microfracture surgery] it probably took them a year to really feel full strength. I feel fine right now."
The Rockets acquired McGrady in June 2004, hoping that he would team with Yao and return the franchise to prominence, but his five-season tenure was marked more by injuries than team success.
He averaged 25.7 points and 5.5 assists in his first season, but the Rockets lost to Dallas in the first round of the playoffs. The Rockets also lost in the first round in 2007 and '08 and the blame for the failures -- whether deserved or not -- increasingly fell on McGrady, who's 0-7 in postseason series.
His health had become an annual issue since 2005-06, when he missed 34 games with back injuries that lingered into the following season.
He hurt his elbow and his knee early in the 2007-08 season and missed a total of 16 games. He was in and out of the lineup last season and finally opted for the risky, season-ending surgery around the All-Star break.
Without him, the Rockets won their first playoff series since 1997, then fought the Los Angeles Lakers to seven games in the second round.
McGrady spent the summer working with Tim Grover, Michael Jordan's former trainer. The Rockets, meanwhile, acquired Trevor Ariza to fill McGrady's role in the lineup. Ariza even took McGrady's No. 1 and is the Rockets' third-leading scorer, averaging 16.3 points per game.
The Rockets already knew they'd play this season without Yao, who underwent foot surgery after the season. They've survived this season playing a scrappy, energetic style and relying on balanced scoring.
McGrady's locker was cleaned out before Tuesday's game, except for a pile of white towels, a pair of gym shoes and two pairs of socks.
"His reputation in this league is tremendous as far as his talent," Adelman said. "But what you can do on the floor is what we have to look at. It didn't work out. He wanted more minutes and I just did not know what the answer was.
"I wanted to be positive that whatever we did was going to go in the right direction for this team," Adelman said. "When we sat him down, he decided he wanted to move on, and maybe that's the best thing."
ESPN.com's Marc Stein and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
31mChris Broussard and Brian Windhorst