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Has Tracy McGrady seen the light?


Tracy McGrady

You could make a case that come playoff time, the game slows down and you need veterans who will stand up to pressure. It’s not like Tracy McGrady has ever had much team success, but he always saw the double teams in playoffs and big games.
(Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images)

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Sam Smith at Bulls.com

It’s the Mr. 12th Man Beauty Contest Monday for the Bulls.

They’ll take a look at Tracy McGrady, a sort basketball version of Ms. Senior America. He left you gasping and your heart beating 10 years ago. He feels he’s still got something to offer. But do you care anymore?

The Bulls still need one more good looking perimeter scoring threat, preferably someone who can make a three-pointer when it matters against the likes of contenders like Miami, Orlando and Boston.

The Bulls believe come playoff time they can be in that conversation.

Can McGrady help them?

Well, that Tracy McGrady of 2000 could, but this Tracy McGrady? The one who has had serious knee surgery to the point he couldn’t play consecutive games with the Knicks last season and they didn’t want him back, who was run out of Houston, essentially by his teammates for his disruptive attitude, and, of course, his own history of quitting on various teams and coaches, including Doc Rivers and his Orlando Magic, where in Orlando they still refer to McGrady in the media as “Me-Mac?”

But can a person change, especially if he’s near career death? McGrady’s basketball career is at that point, and maybe he has had the epiphany and will devote himself one time to the greater good rather than his personal agenda.

He has seen the light! He’s on a mission! At least that’s what McGrady’s benefactors insist.

The Bulls merely are interested onlookers for now, likely doing a favor for McGrady’s agent, who also represents Derrick Rose. My sense is McGrady has a lot of persuading to do as the internal consensus at this point seems opposed to taking the chance on McGrady.

The Bulls will keep their minds open for now. Why not?

Perhaps the best thing McGrady has going for him is Rose last week at USA Basketball camp said he’d like to have McGrady. Of course, Rose also said he’d like to have any free agent, so with Rose you never are quite sure when he’s being politic. Plus, given they have the same agent it may be just Rose’s duty to support McGrady publicly.

Though I’ve been opposed to taking a risk with McGrady, I could see it as an accommodation to Rose. After all, he didn’t demean himself by praying at the altar of King James, and if Rose believes McGrady can help the team, it’s not unreasonable to compromise.

It’s not like with Michael Jordan, who often tried to get Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant traded to add his friends from North Carolina and the ACC.

For now, the Bulls are remaining bystanders without any commitment to McGrady.

The interesting element to the McGrady saga is, sources are saying, is McGrady’s desire to come to the Bulls. It’s been no secret as little is secret with McGrady, who is a modern day Ralph Kramden. Yes, he has a “BIG MOUTH.”

Sources say despite reports to the contrary now Miami tried repeatedly to get McGrady to sign and Pat Riley was calling McGrady daily.

McGrady not only said he didn’t want to go to Miami, but said he believed the Bulls could defeat the Heat and he’d rather be on the team that beats them.

I do like that if it is true.

Plus, he could have gotten more money in Miami than he’d make from the Bulls.

That would be something in his favor, assuming, of course, he can play.

The physical reports again are positive, but they were last season when he joined the Knicks and he still couldn’t even finish games.

McGrady’s training always has been suspicious as he doesn’t do it with teams but hires his own staff. How much can you be pushed when you are paying?

The end of his tenure in Houston was bad as teammates reportedly went to management to ask the coach to stop playing him because no one ever knew when he’d play and it was becoming too disruptive given his distance with the team.

The notion is you can give him a non-guaranteed minimum contract, which he’d supposedly accept because he wants to play for the Bulls. Then if it is any problem, you let him go. That is much easier said than done, as with a relative who overstays their welcome, it’s not so easy to get them out.

I don’t see any way the Bulls could benefit by having McGrady during the regular season, even assuming he isn’t a problem. Given his health, there is no way he could defend or play the up-tempo game the Bulls need, or be ready every game.

You could make a case that come playoff time, the game slows down and you need veterans who will stand up to pressure. It’s not like McGrady’s ever had much team success, but he always saw the double teams in playoffs and big games. Perhaps he could help some in such circumstances.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was on the staff in Houston when McGrady was there, so Thibodeau knows him. And, as McGrady supporters point out, the Bulls once took on Dennis Rodman when Michael Jordan was on board. If Rose is, why not?

Though reports from some McGrady has played for have not been particularly favorable, I can see the potential benefit in a playoff situation. But it’s a long way to get there and a lot of team building to do before then.

This is the only way that makes sense to add McGrady, and perhaps the best test to determine if he’s serious.

You sign him to a veterans’ minimum unguaranteed as a 14th man. You list him inactive for the first three months of the season, let him work with the team and train with the team’s training staff and not his own. Gauge how serious he is and his condition. Also, let the team meld and develop.

Then once you have a team set and rolling into February, you begin to bring McGrady along if you still believe he can help you in the playoffs. There’s plenty of time. If he won’t go for that, it means he’s still Me-Mac and about himself.

McGrady’s going to strip down and work out for the Bulls Monday. If only we could have seen him in his youth.

Will LeBron regret not joining Kobe?

-- You wonder if the epilogue to this Miami threesome story will be that the Lakers and LeBron blew their chance.

I’d long speculated that the ideal spot for LeBron James was to go with Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson and the Lakers. It generally was pooh poohed because it was said these two stars of the game never could co-exist and each had to have his own team.

Then LeBron, with his decision to go to Miami, in effect, told us he doesn’t need or want to be “the Man,” the star, and is fine as James Worthy or Kevin McHale or Scottie Pippen—that it’s just about a chance to win.

But wouldn’t he have a better chance with Kobe and Pau and Phil in L.A. rather than with Wade and Bosh and Spoelstra (or eventually Riley) in Miami? And in a major market with arguably the most successful franchise in NBA history?

Plus, in the end LeBron did get a sign-and-trade from the Cavs to get more money. Wouldn’t the Cavs have been better off had they added Andrew Bynum, a true low post center, than the nothing they got from Miami? And gotten LeBron out of the East and still had a chance to compete for the Finals with no super team in the East?

LeBron could have evolved with an aging Kobe into a star in L.A., where he wants to get into the movie business, anyway.

Kobe would have been the star for as long as he wanted, and the Lakers had way more pieces with Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest and others who’d won. Sure, the Heat will be good. But after the top three, the rest are bench, role players.

Mike Miller? Give him maybe 50 games. Udonis Haslem? How many teams can he start for? They brought back Jamaal Magloire and Joel Anthony, and Jermaine O’Neal was by far their best center last season. It’s hardly a sure winner, which you’d have in L.A. with the greatest assemblage of talent in the era.

It seems a huge opportunity lost by LeBron, the Cavs and the Lakers.

Paul set to test the Hornets

--- So what’s the deal with Chris Paul? He sure looks like a jerk with this supposed request for a trade, which would get him fined if he publicized it. So was that what he was up to in Las Vegas last week when he was telling friends in the NBA he never had a list of teams to go to and the whole story had been fabricated. Plus, he hadn’t, as reported, chosen LeBron’s marketing company but was just one he was looking at. Was he just back tracking over his stupidity?

Apparently, things were not going well back home, where there were reports of traitor Paul’s jersey being burned. With two years left on his deal, he has little leverage to demand a trade anywhere, and was telling friends he wouldn’t do that.

So we’ll find out, maybe, after he meets with Hornets staff Monday.

Around the NBA, a lot of team executives say they are looking at it as something of a test case. After all, Paul sought security and New Orleans gave it to him with a six-year deal. But you can’t also have an out when things go badly when you asked for the security. And things have gone badly, partly, because of you as Paul again missed a large part of the season with injury for the second time in his five years. He’s a talent, no question. But in five years in the NBA, his team with an All-Star forward has made the playoffs twice, and only once beyond the first round. Ben Gordon could say that, and he didn’t have an All-Star to play with.

The back story on this is, perhaps, the interesting part.

Friends of Paul say it’s all innocent and comes from Carmelo Anthony’s wedding. James was there and trash talking about how the Heat is going to win the next seven championships. So then guests began to give toasts and that apparently was part of James’ toast, that he would be a winner and the groom and others losers. Yeah, classy.

So to get James to shut up some Paul joked about he, Amar’e and Carmelo joining up in New York. It came out as a plan and within days a list of destinations for Paul was supposedly circulating. Paul was denying it to fellow NBA players last week, though we’ll see.

The NBA is watching as well, and the Hornets are something of a test case. Do they stand up given they guaranteed Paul tens of millions of dollars? Or fold and bail out on their fans?

Forman builds the Bulls

-- Miami, obviously, is the story of the summer and will be of the 2010-11 season. Heat president Pat Riley will be the league’s executive of the year for pulling off what no one thought could be done. But in his first full season as Bulls General Manager, Gar Forman should get some consideration as well.

Although the Bulls made presentations and lost out on James, Wade and Bosh after having to give up on Ben Gordon, John Salmons and Kirk Hinrich, Forman didn’t panic and did a professional job in building a potentially high level basketball team.

He also was hamstrung some in that the Bulls have to look ahead for contract extensions for Joakim Noah (likely later this summer) and Derrick Rose after next season. So the Bulls weren’t in position to offer long term deals.

Still, Forman scooped up Carlos Boozer when the Nets were in pursuit.

He quietly added Omer Asik and kept him from returning to Europe. The Bulls then got Kyle Korver to complement Boozer, and Ronnie Brewer after Orlando matched on J.J. Redick. Though Brewer, obviously, wasn’t the first choice, he is the kind of big, defensive guard the team needed and has lacked. Forman quietly outbid several teams for veteran Kurt Thomas to support Noah until Asik develops more and C.J. Watson is the sort of below the radar pickup who could be big. He’s a good shooter and before going to Golden State was a good defender, so he should be able to unlearn Warriors’ habits.

It’s a lot of pieces that potentially fit well with a coach in Tom Thibodeau who is widely respected around the NBA by other coaches and players like James who have complimented his schemes. It’s potentially been a heck of a year for Forman, and the Bulls still have a player or two to add.

If it doesn’t work with McGrady…

-- Yes, Monday is Tracy McGrady’s turn, and the Bulls still do need a shooting guard/small forward who can shoot and make threes. Is McGrady that guy? I believe the Bulls can do much better.

Here’s whom I’d go for:

1. Rudy Fernandez: Things can change, but all indications are Fernandez finally is available from Portland. They’ve always asked for a lot, so who knows. I wouldn’t give up Gibson and a No. 1. Portland is said at least to want a No. 1. I’d do it, lottery or top 10 protected. Fernandez didn’t play well when Brandon Roy was hurt, and coach Nate McMillan is said to be down on him. He’s a guy who can put up points quick and is exciting and is better than McGrady has been for several years.

2. Keith Bogans: He’s got good size, which is vital, can make some threes and was a starter for the Spurs for most of last season. He plays tough and long has been a favorite of the coaching staff after Thibodeau got to know him in Houston.

3. Roger Mason Jr.: The one-time Bulls draft pick had a tough shooting season for the Spurs amidst position changes and rumors he’d be traded. But the season before he shot 42 percent on threes and started 71 games. He’s also got good size and is a career 38 percent shooter on threes even with an offseason.

To me, that’s the field. I don’t have much interest in Shannon Brown, who has been tough to get along with at times and isn’t a particularly good three point shooter at under 33 percent. Eddie House is too small, Rafer Alston is more a point and Flip Murray has been there and seemed very ready to move on last season. McGrady? I think the Bulls can do better.


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