Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2010
By Mark Schanowski
So, you think Tracy McGrady isn't an important player in the NBA anymore? Turns out the decision on which team he'll be traded to could have a big impact on this summer's free agent bidding war. Right now, the Bulls and Knicks are the finalists to acquire the one-time superstar, who's struggling to come back from microfracture knee surgery. McGrady is only 30 years old, but he's already played 12 NBA seasons, and has battled a series of injuries in recent years. The Rockets took a look at him in December in limited minutes, and decided he didn't have the quickness or explosiveness necessary to be a productice NBA player anymore. So, by mutual decision, McGrady left the team to continue his rehab with noted personal trainer Tim Grover here in Chicago.
Grover insists McGrady is in excellent shape, and ready to contribute to an NBA team right now. Others around the league aren't so sure. He played heavy minutes during his time in Orlando and Houston, forced to carry the scoring load for average teams. McGrady been among the league's top scorers for the last decade and made multiple All-Star teams, but he was never an active player on a team that won a playoff series. Ironically, Houston finally advanced to the Western Conference Finals last season after McGrady ended his season to have the microfracture surgery. Now NBA scouts and front office types are wondering if he'll ever be an impact player again.
But the acquisition of McGrady still could alter the balance of power in the league for years to come, especially if Houston accepts a Knicks' proposal that includes Jared Jeffries. Why Jeffries you ask? Well, because if the Knicks are able to unload Jeffries' contract that has one more season to go, they should have enough salary cap room to offer TWO maximum contract offers to free agents this summer. That means they'll be able to tell LeBron James if he's willing to come to New York, he can bring any one of the other elite free agents with him. If you want D-Wade, bring D-Wade. If you want Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire or Joe Johnson, we can get the co-star of your choosing. LeBron has always loved New York. He wears a Yankees' baseball cap to Cleveland Indians' games! He has spoken on numerous occasions about his love for Madison Square Garden, and his respect for New York City as the Mecca of basketball. Sure, LeBron is from Akron, Ohio, but he fantasizes about showcasing his talents on the world's biggest stage. If Cleveland doesn't make a move at the deadline to acqure Amar'e Stoudemire or Antawn Jamison, or if they don't win the NBA championship this spring, don't be surprised if LeBron bolts for the Big Apple.
That's one of the reasons why John Paxson and Gar Forman are working so hard to swing their own McGrady deal. Their dream scenario involves signing either Wade or Joe Johnson as a free agent this summer, then working a sign and trade for an inside player like Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer or David Lee. But if the Knicks are successful in luring two free agents to New York, the Bulls plan falls apart completely. So don't be fooled by McGrady's diminishing skills. This is a player who figures very heavily in the off-season plans for the Bulls, Knicks and several other NBA teams. Wade is growing impatient with Pat Riley's inability to deliver on his promise to build another championship team in Miami, and might consider a return to Chicago if the Heat's off-season plans don't deliver another superstar to South Beach. And given LeBron's emergence as the clear-cut best player in the world, his game and ego may have outgrown Cleveland. So, none of the teams holding one of the elite free agents can be sure what will happen this summer. That's why this battle over acquring McGrady's expiring contract has suddenly become so important.
BULLS IN GOOD POSITION FOR RETURN TO PLAYOFFS
Back to the action on the court, the Bulls sure looked good in rolling up a lopsided win over the Knicks Tuesday night. Derrick Rose hit his first 9 shots from the floor and wound up making 14 of 18 for 29 points in just 27 minutes. He admitted his bruised hip is still sore, but doesn't seem too concerned about the injury. Rose said simply bruises heal, and he should be fine in the next few days. As long as their All-Star point guard is healthy, there's no reason why the Bulls can't make the playoffs for the 2nd year in a row. Their schedule is very favorable over the next few weeks, and they'll play a steady diet of home games in March. Unless Paxson and Forman gut the roster with deadline deals, the Bulls should be able to finish about .500 and make a run at the 6th or 7th seed in the East.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY M.J.
And before we sign off, I wanted to wish a happy birthday to the greatest basketball player in history of the game, Michael Jordan, who turns 47 today. Jordan is involved in serious negotiations right now to become the majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats. We wish him well in that pursuit, and thank him for those 6 championships. And, on a personal note, I'll always remember Jordan's birthday because my daughter, Brooke, was born on the same date in 1995. HAPPY BIRTHDAY BROOKE......you're running with some pretty elite company!
Don't forget, Bulls and Knicks on Comcast Sportsnet Wednesday at 6:30. Kendall Gill will join me for the post-game show and all the latest NBA trade news right after the final buzzer around 9 p.m. Enjoy the game, and we'll talk to you soon!
Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNite, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10.