McGrady Could Alter Balance of Power in East

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McGrady Could Alter Balance of Power in East

Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2010
5:19 PM
By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

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.

After fighting through unspeakable adversity, Celtics 'enjoying the moment' with new perspective

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USA TODAY

After fighting through unspeakable adversity, Celtics 'enjoying the moment' with new perspective

Championship moments rarely occur in the first round. With a playoff format that drags the postseason out for more than two months, with playoff series taking as long as two weeks, the second season feels like just that. It’s far too early to say what exactly Friday night in Chicago will mean for the top-seeded Celtics, but a sense of a team coming together under unfathomable circumstances may prove to be the turning point in a season that a week ago appeared hanging by a thread.

It happened in three parts.

On the floor the Celtics looked every bit the part of a 51-win team that edged out LeBron’s Cavs for the top spot in the East. Brad Stevens’ small-ball approach came full-circle as the Boston guards lived in the paint against the Bulls, kicking out to open shooters for 16 3-pointers that helped the Celtics put away the game (and series) midway through the third quarter.

Avery Bradley starred for a second consecutive night, tallying 23 points while making Jimmy Butler work for his, while eight different Celtics hit a 3-pointer and the team shot 49 percent. For the first time in the series the Celtics looked dominant, like a team poised to contend with the Cavaliers for supremacy in the East.

“It felt good to play Celtic basketball again,” Avery Bradley said. “We were all smiling, having fun, and that’s what it’s supposed to be. That’s how hard we worked this entire year, to play that type of basketball.”

Isaiah Thomas was naturally somber much of the series. The well-documented death of his 22-year-old sister put a damper on the series before it began, and the MVP candidate understandably chose not to address it on the few occassions he spoke with the media. But Thomas looked more like himself as the series went on. Not only did his numbers improve, he appeared more vocal after made baskets, laughed off trash talk from Bulls point guard Isaiah Canaan, and engineered the Celtics' offense to near-perfection.

His defining moment came late in the third quarter with the Celtics nearing a 30-point lead. After a hard foul he gathered his four teammates in a huddle near the baseline and shouted that the series for the Bulls was "a wrap for these m------------!" This was the same player who two weeks earlier was brought to tears prior to Game 1, and who will bury his sister on Saturday in Tacoma, Washington. Under unthinkable circumstances, Thomas averaged 23.0 points and 5.7 assists in 34.8 minutes in the series.

“I feel like he has grown,” Al Horford said. "And we all have in a way with all the adversity that has gone on. It could have easily gone the other way, but I feel like especially tonight when we got the game in hand, in control, we all just kept on repeating to stay focused to keep it going, keep pushing. We didn’t want to give them any life and we were a focused group and we were enjoying the moment.”

Thomas' journey won't get easier. He'll have another short turnaround to get ready for Sunday's second-round matchup against the Celtics. But like his teammates did in Games 3 and 4, when Thomas flew by himself to Chicago following his return home to Tacoma to mourn with his family, they'll have another opporuntity to grow closer. Brad Stevens kept an incredible perspective on the situation throughout the series, and applauded his team for doing the same while still fighting for wins.

"Bigger things than basketball happened, and that took precedent and it takes precdedent," he said. "I was really proud of our guys for how they treated each other, how they stood together, stuck together. And how nobody pointed fingers, they were just a great support for one another, especially Isaiah."

When Thomas does return, and when the Celtics gear up for their next postseason journey, expectations will have remained the same. Though the Wizards were one of the league's best teams in the second half, and with John Wall and Bradley Beal playing on another level, it'll take more performances like Friday night - both on the court and collectively staying together - for Boston to advance. A 2-0 hole against the Wizards will feel a whole lot different than it did against the Bulls.

That sort of letdown doesn't feel like it will happen again. Though no one would have wished such tragedy to force it, the Celtics came together at a critical moment and came out better for it. Their work isn't done, and they know it. But the way they were able to handle the adversity in Round 1, anything seems possible for Stevens, Thomas the top seed in the East.

"We just try to stay the course in the day-to-day. And if that results in us winning more games or winning in the playoffs, or whatever the case may be, there’s only one goal in the Boston," Stevens said. "Seventeen (NBA championship) banners above us. We don’t have a choice. We only shoot for one thing there."

BullsTalk Podcast: Top-seeded Celtics too much to handle for Bulls

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AP

BullsTalk Podcast: Top-seeded Celtics too much to handle for Bulls

In the latest episode of the BullsTalk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Stacey King break down the final game of the Bulls' season, a 105-83 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 6 of their first-round playoff series.

Also, hear postgame press conferences from head coach Fred Hoiberg and All-Star forward Jimmy Butler. And the guys look ahead to the offseason and the NBA Draft.

Listen to the latest episode below: