Sources: Bulls not sold on McGrady
"I think we can be really good," McGrady said, "I really do."
But McGrady hasn't completely sold the Bulls and might not get the contract offer he wants and expects, according to sources with knowledge of Chicago's thinking.
I won't have a problem, but that's not what I'm really shooting for. I think, yeah, if I was the player that I was in a Knicks uniform [at the end of last season], I would have no problem coming off the bench. But I've worked extremely hard and I'm far from being that player. Trust me. It's up to me in training camp to prove I'm a starter.” -- Tracy McGrady on willingness to come off bench next season
Despite an on-court audition for team officials Monday that one source said raised no significant concerns about his physical condition, McGrady apparently has not convinced the Bulls that he is willing to embrace a secondary role, which is one of two key prerequisites the two-time scoring champ must satisfy to secure a deal from Chicago.
One source close to the process told ESPN.com that the prospect of Chicago signing McGrady was downgraded to "unlikely" after the workout and interview, with the Bulls saying they wanted more time to consider other options. Another source confirmed that the post-workout meeting between McGrady and Bulls' decision-makers did not clinch a deal, as McGrady had hoped.
ESPN.com reported Sunday that McGrady had to show Chicago that he was sufficiently healthy and, perhaps more importantly, eager to take on any role outlined by new Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau -- big or small -- to join a young, promising roster that already has 11 players.
After the workout at the Bulls' practice facility in Deerfield, Ill. --- in a manner that made it sound as though his signing was a virtual formality -- McGrady confirmed to the assembled media that going to Chicago is his first choice in free agency.
"This was a great team, a pretty good team, without adding myself and Carlos Boozer, and some of the key players that they added this offseason," McGrady said.
Yet McGrady, when asked about coming off the bench, seemed to suggest that he expects to be more than a role player in Chicago.
"I won't have a problem, but that's not what I'm really shooting for," McGrady said. "I think, yeah, if I was the player that I was in a Knicks uniform [at the end of last season], I would have no problem coming off the bench. But I've worked extremely hard and I'm far from being that player. Trust me.
"It's up to me in training camp," McGrady continued, "to prove I'm a starter."
As ESPN.com reported last week, McGrady's highly-publicized trip to Los Angeles to work out for the Clippers was as much to nudge the Bulls closer to signing him as it was to try and impress L.A., which appears to no longer have an opening for McGrady after the Clippers committed to bringing back Rasual Butler.
The seven-time All-Star was limited to 30 games last season in his recovery from microfracture surgery on his left knee. He averaged 9.4 points, 3.9 assists and 26.1 minutes in 24 starts for the Knicks, who acquired McGrady from Houston in a three-way trade in February.
The signing of McGrady has the endorsement of Bulls star Derrick Rose. Thibodeau is also well-acquainted with McGrady after their time together in Houston when Thibodeau was an assistant to then-Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy. McGrady's agent Arn Tellem, furthermore, has a longstanding relationship with Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.
But the Bulls, while still short of proven scoring at the wing positions, might be hesitant to gamble on bringing in a player of McGrady's stature -- even on a non-guaranteed contract -- if he's as determined to eventually win a starting spot as he sounded Monday.
"Without me, without Boozer, they're a .500 ball club," McGrady said. "And with the guys that they added, if they add me, I think we'll be 30 points better. I think we'll be a better defensive team with Thibodeau, who I played with for three years [in Houston]. So [the Bulls] have a really good chance of being good. The city should be excited about this team."
When pressed about his ability to fit in with the deep Bulls and the corresponding media skepticism about Chicago's need to sign him, McGrady added: "You can't worry about that. ... Thibodeau was with me for three years, so if I was a bad locker room guy I don't think he would have had any interest in bringing me here."
McGrady has made no secret of his longing for Chicago through several recent messages via his Twitter feed, including pronouncements Saturday that he has "unfinished business" with the Bulls and that it "could be fate this time round" with Chicago after drawing serious interest from the Bulls in the 1997 draft and again during free agency in 2000.
It also couldn't have hurt McGrady's chances that Rose told ESPNChicago.com last week that the idea of signing McGrady -- Rose's favorite player as a kid -- has his full support.
"That would be good," Rose said. "I think that if he comes along, he could help our team. A player like him, with his experience and how he plays, I think it would help us.
"He's good. He's a player. If he just gives us half of what he's got, we'll be all right. ... He'll definitely help us if we get him on the team."
McGrady was equally complimentary of Rose.
"I'm very excited about the opportunity," McGrady said. "If I do choose to come here, he'd definitely be the best point guard I've played with. The guy is very explosive. He's getting better every year. He's improving his jump shot. He's just a great young talent who has a tremendous upside to be a great player in this league."
As for his health, McGrady said: "I feel good. I've been battling to get back to rare form for two years, coming off of microfracture surgery, and it's been a tough road. But I feel pretty good compared to my last game I played in New York. I was still going through the rehab process and I'm definitely a long ways away from what I used to look like. So I'm very, very confident in what I'm going to be coming up in this upcoming season."
The Chicago Tribune reported Monday that the Bulls were contemplating whether to offer McGrady a non-guaranteed deal for next season if they decide to go ahead with the experiment, but McGrady has said money and years are not priorities after earning nearly $23 million last season with Houston and New York.
Chris Broussard is a senior NBA writer for ESPN The Magazine and Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell contributed to this report.
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