The Vancouver Grizzlies completed a three-team, 11-player trade involving guard Steve Francis last night, ending a brief but acrimonious relationship between the Grizzlies and the former Maryland standout they drafted second overall.
The Houston Rockets obtained the rights to Francis in the deal, which also involved the Orlando Magic. Although Francis's agent, Jeff Fried, said his client would have played for the Grizzlies had a trade not been completed, Francis was clearly pleased to be joining a team that includes Hakeem Olajuwon, Scottie Pippen and Charles Barkley.
"I feel so relieved and so at peace because I've always thought about playing on a good team," Francis said in an interview with Houston television station KRIV-TV. "With three Hall of Fame players on the team, I'm in a position to help myself and not have a lot of pressure on me to come in my first year and do a lot."
Grizzlies General Manager Stu Jackson said the relationship between the team and Francis, who left Maryland after his junior season, was irreparable. Jackson said Francis and Fried made it clear that Francis did not want to play in Vancouver under any circumstances.
"I wouldn't describe it as being a relief," Jackson said of the trade. "It's unfortunate the relationship would not be in both of our best interests. . . . In any rookie's transition to the NBA, there's a multitude of adversity that players face, in particular young players.
"I think to withstand that type of adversity you really need to have it together. We felt that with our team, the way it's presently comprised and the guys that are here wanting to win, we didn't want to add something negative to the mix."
But Fried said Francis would have played in Vancouver, if necessary.
"Steve wanted to play basketball," Fried said. "His dream was to play in the NBA. A lot of thought processes were gone through by him, by us, by his family. At the end of the day he would have contributed to whatever team he ended up with. He would have played in Vancouver."
The Rockets and Grizzlies had reached a trade in principle Thursday night. The Magic entered the picture at about 2 p.m. yesterday.
In addition to Francis, the Grizzlies dealt former Terrapin Tony Massenburg to Houston, which also acquired forward Don MacLean and a future first-round draft pick from Orlando. Francis is unsigned but is expected to be under contract by early next week, Fried said.
The Magic acquired Lee Mayberry, Rodrick Rhodes, Makhtar Ndiaye and Washington native Michael Smith from Vancouver.
The Grizzlies obtained Michael Dickerson, Othella Harrington (Georgetown), Brent Price, Antoine Carr and a first-round draft pick in of the next three years from Houston. Vancouver received a second-round pick from Orlando in 2002. In an unrelated move, the Grizzlies signed free agent forward Dennis Scott.
Francis is projected as the Rockets' starting point guard, with Cuttino Mobley possibly moving over to the other guard slot. They'll join front-court players Olajuwon, Pippen and Barkley, who is expected to re-sign soon with Houston.
"We think in Steve Francis we're probably going to get the most exciting player in the draft," Rockets Coach Rudy Tomjanovich said. "Very explosive, great in the open court. Real hard to contain, just a super athlete. All the coaches he's been involved with just love him as a kid. He's unselfish, but he's talented. I think he's a very big piece looking toward our future. I just see him fitting in with all of our players."
Having the complement of superstars will take the pressure off of Francis, Fried said. Even so, it may not take off the blemish that Francis cast on himself the second the Grizzlies drafted him June 30.
Upon being selected, Francis buried his face in his hands. He slowly walked onto a stage in front of cheering fans, his face somber. Francis later made negative remarks about having to play in Vancouver.
He later said he behaved so badly because he was upset about having to play so far away from his family. Francis later went to Vancouver, met the media and team management and seemed to make amends.
He did not. Jackson said nothing the team did could satisfy the issues brought to them by Francis and Fried. Something had to, and finally did, give.
"He's ecstatic to be playing in Houston," Fried said.
A look at the 11-player trade involving the Rockets, Grizzlies and Magic:
G Steve Francis
F Tony Massenberg
F Don MacLean (from Orlando)
C Othella Harrington
F Antoine Carr
G Michael Dickerson
G Brent Price
First-round draft pick in 2000, 2001 or 2002 (from Houston)
Second-round draft pick in 2002 (from Orlando)
Orlando gets (all from Vancouver):
F Michael Smith
G Lee Mayberry
G Rodrick Rhodes
F Makhtar Ndiaye