The Chicago Bulls still haven’t flat-out told Tracy McGrady that they aren’t signing him.
Yet you can rest assured that McGrady knows what the Bulls’ forthcoming signing of Keith Bogans means.
One source close to the process told ESPN.com that McGrady indeed understands that the agreement Chicago struck Friday to sign Bogans essentially extinguishes any hope he had of running with the Bulls next season.
The unkind reality for McGrady is that the Bulls, if they add another swingman in their roster overhaul this summer, are still far more likely to trade for Rudy Fernandez than call T-Mac back.
It's been nearly two weeks since McGrady's audition at Chicago’s practice facility, when he appeared to create his own obstacles to landing a Bogans-esque deal by following up the workout with a flurry of comments that suggest he still sees himself on Carlos Boozer's level … when the Bulls were hoping to hear accept-any-role humility.
Then a bigger obstacle got in McGrady's way: Fernandez's increasing availability in Portland.
Fernandez wants a prominent role as much as McGrady does, judging by the 25-year-old’s well-chronicled pining for minutes in Portland. But sources with knowledge of the Bulls’ thinking have maintained for days that they would rather gamble on trying to fit in the Spaniard -- whose 3-point shooting fills what they see as a greater need -- than the two-time scoring champ.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau hinted at that thinking Friday in a radio interview with ESPN 1000's "Waddle & Silvy Show” in Chicago before TNT’s David Aldridge broke the Bogans news on NBA.com. When asked about McGrady, Thibodeau confirmed that the Bulls hadn’t ruled him out completely but made it clear that acquiring a proven shooter was their priority.
Hours later, Chicago clinched Bogans’ signature, which doesn’t conclusively fill that void … but also doesn’t affect the salary-cap space needed to acquire Fernandez and might just convey to the Blazers that the Bulls aren’t going to keep waiting around.
In one of its proposals to Portland, sources said, Chicago has offered to absorb Fernandez's modest $1.25 million salary for next season with cap space in exchange for a future first-round pick.
Sources say Portland, however, has believed that it can do better in a Fernandez deal and is holding out for more, even though New York also balked at the Blazers' demands this week and elected to sign Roger Mason to a bargain one-year deal at the veteran minimum of $1.4 million.
It’s widely assumed that the Blazers want Taj Gibson back from the Bulls, but sources say Chicago is not about to include Gibson in Fernandez talks. James Johnson is the best young player Chicago has made available.
The Oregonian reported last week that the Knicks and Celtics were the other teams, besides Chicago, chasing Fernandez hardest, but we’ll have to see how choosy Portland intends to be from here.
Far harder to forecast is where McGrady turns now. After the Bulls and Clippers worked him out and then went in different directions -- and with the Miami Heat seemingly out of roster room and thought to be highly hesitant to bring in big names for the LeBron James/Dwyane Wade/Chris Bosh supporting cast -- there are no other known suitors in circulation for T-Mac.
Which is also known as Allen Iverson territory.