July 26, 2010
The typical roadblocks have already been set, even before Tracy works out for the team on Monday. Would he be able to deal with coming off the bench? Is he healthy enough to make an impact? Fair questions to ask, considering his history, but the Bulls have the chance to make Tracy their absolute creature in this context. He wants to play for them, and they know it. They're right to demand things.
And they're wrong for not demanding enough.
This isn't a player that the league needs to shame. This isn't someone who is due his comeuppance. Tracy has had his petulant turns, and you'll be hard-pressed to find many lingering fans of his in Toronto (a team he left as a free agent), Orlando (a team he pressed to trade him, with disastrous results in spite of the Magic's rise in spite of it), or Houston (they just plain don't like him, for several good reasons), but he's more or less served his time.
McGrady was banished by the Rockets last year. The man had to slum with the New York Knicks last season, with the full knowledge that he was in town mainly to serve as a distraction from the fact that the team had to trade away future draft picks just to lose Jared Jeffries'(notes) contract in the deal that brought T-Mac to NYC. The guy had to work out for the Clippers last week. We needn't pile on.
But what the Bulls should do, is be wary. And ensure that McGrady won't be a problem with a team that both badly needs offense, and can't afford more bad offense.
There's a distinction, and McGrady has produced little but bad offense over the last few years. This is the point in the post that I quote liberally from Mark Deeks. You might know him as Sham from ShamSports.com, and he's better than all of us, at anything we do. Except for Trey. Trey's better than Mark. But Mark is quite good.
Mark is a Bulls follower, and he isn't very enthused about McGrady's possible role on his favorite team. To wit, such wit:
Tracy McGrady is a career .435% shooter who hasn't shot over 43% since he was a 32 points per game superduperoonystar back in 2002/03. Before that era of his career, he used to be a backup small forward that played fine defense and averaged 2 blocks per game off the bench, yet with his health, athleticism and his fame went his defense. He is a career 34% three point shooter who used to be a world beater due to his world beating athleticism, but who doesn't even have Luol Deng(notes)-level athleticism any more. To call him a mere shell of his former self still sells the situation short.
There's nothing wrong with this analysis. As much credit as I'd like to give Chicago's front office, they haven't ever smacked of a crew that looked beyond the superficial in terms of player breakdowns, or advanced statistics. To them, Tracy McGrady is still Tracy McGrady, the guy that has a huge upside should he get healthy, and is in no danger of hurting the team if he isn't a hundred percent.
The problem there is usage. McGrady is in danger of hurting the Bulls if he isn't a hundred percent, because he's yet to learn (or, is loath to learn) how to play at this level without being the guy that everything runs through. He handled it just fine in Toronto, for those three years working his way into the pro level, hanging out on the baseline and glomming for offensive rebounds, blocks, and the occasional flush. But he could only handle that for three years, and took his talents to south ... well, southern Florida in 2000.
Chicago had a shot at him that year, if you'll recall. And in 1997, actually, as the Bulls were exploring a trade between the defending champions and the Boston Celtics that would send Scottie Pippen and Luc Longley to Rick Pitino's new team (mind you, both Scottie and Luc had just a year left on their contracts, which makes Rick look way worse) for two draft picks that Bulls GM Jerry Krause hoped would be Kentucky guard Ron Mercer (who he'd end up signing, as a Plan B after McGrady turned Chicago down in 2000), and T-Mac with the sixth pick in the draft.
Clarence Gaines, Krause's head scout throughout the championship years, put together a fascinating post on the subject last week that was one of the more intriguing reads of the summer. But beyond the details regarding the potential pre-draft deal, and McGrady's initial visit to Chicago, is this nugget:
Here's something that I'm sure was never made public and probably didn't show up in Tracy's physicals conducted by the league. Al & Erik Helland, current Bulls strength & conditioning coach, would manipulate all parts of the body to gauge a player's flexibility. Through this testing, Al Vermeil predicted that Tracy would have back problems. Al got that one right. Through genetic fate, Tracy McGrady was destined to have problems with his back throughout his career.
I remember Tracy's second year in Orlando, and his back issues in training camp. Most, including myself, chalked it up to him being out of shape. He hardly looked like a weight room demon, and he had begged out of countless practices early in his rookie year with the same sort of sore feet that every one of his training camp teammates were suffering through.
But the Magic were concerned. Doc Rivers, especially, broke through my dubious tone. He mentioned something about how, yes, every person on the Magic's roster had been going through out of shape-type pains. But when it's a 22-year old complaining about a bad back, you tend to pay attention.
Doc was right. And Tracy was right to complain. And that issue isn't going away, especially nine years later.
Which is why the Bulls need to ask questions beyond, "are you healthy?", and, "are you cool with coming off the bench?"
They need to know if Tracy is going to play like an average wingman who can occasionally hit a smooth mid-range jumper. They need to know if he knows that he's not a guy who can dominate the ball and ask for a screen on his right side every time down court. It's not about minutes, or shots. It's about what he does with those minutes, and what sort of shots he's taking. Because McGrady can kill a team in fewer than three minutes. It's all about how he fills those minutes up. And how he attempts to fill the stat sheet up.
So, yes, Chicago. Go after him. Be wary. Ignore Mark Deeks' beyond-educated proposal to bring in the seemingly perfect Romain Sato instead. The market is pretty lousy, and I'd still prefer McGrady over the other available stateside wings. And Chicago needs swingman depth, badly.
But push him, to turn it all around. Push him, to not be so lugubrious, to not act with these seemingly elevated levels of insouciance while he lopes up and down the court. Push him to go quick, go hard, and re-define that legacy.
Push him to remind of the Tracy McGrady you courted in 1997, and 2000. Not the superstar that followed those failed attempts, but the hungry young man that was willing to do it all to win. That man is in there, somewhere. Seek him out.
And then sign him.