By Frank Pingue
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - San Antonio Spurs forward Tracy McGrady was one of the NBA's premier players in his prime but lately he has been imitating the game's biggest name as he seeks a maiden championship.
Heading into the 2013 Finals, McGrady took on the role of simulating LeBron James in practice to help his team prepare for the best-of-seven series against the Miami Heat.
"That was before this series even started, just simulating a little bit of what LeBron does on the basketball court," said McGrady, whose Spurs lead the best-of-seven series 2-1.
"I'm just doing the best I can and contributing in whatever fashion I can for this team to prepare themselves to win a championship."
McGrady's National Basketball Association (NBA) career began with much promise, entering the league as a teenager when he was drafted ninth overall by the Toronto Raptors in 1997.
He averaged under 10 points a game in his first two seasons but enjoyed a breakout campaign in 1999-2000 when he helped lead Toronto to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
McGrady was eventually dealt to the Orlando Magic, where he enjoyed his best seasons. He then had a stint with the Houston Rockets, where a knee injury in 2008 triggered a downward spiral in his career.
He bounced around a handful of teams and last year played in the Chinese Basketball Association before the Spurs acquired him in April as a late-season signing ahead of the postseason.
"It feels good to be in this position," said McGrady, who admitted he would contemplate retirement following the conclusion during the offseason.
"This team has been working extremely hard every day to prepare themselves for a chance at the championship and I am blessed to be having this opportunity."
McGrady is a seven-time NBA All-Star and two-time scoring champion but was hounded by nagging criticism that he was never able to carry a team beyond the first round of the playoffs.
He played nearly eight minutes in San Antonio's Game Two loss to Miami, collecting two defensive rebounds and blocking one shot while going 0-for-1 from the field.
While he is not playing the leading role in San Antonio, his largely behind-the-scenes efforts are not being overlooked.
His role now is more about helping the younger guys on the team like Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal and Danny Green, a trio that just happened to power the Spurs to a pivotal Game Three victory on Wednesday.
"He's been great with some of the younger guys, with Kawhi, Gary and Danny. You see him talking to them all the time during time‑outs or practice," said Spurs forward and four-time NBA champion Tim Duncan.
"Just staying in their ears about different things. I thought he's done a really good job of that, giving them tips here and there."
(Editing by Julian Linden)