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Tuesday, June 29, 2004
Updated: June 30, 9:51 AM ET
Francis' meeting with Magic triggers trade

Associated Press

HOUSTON -- Tracy McGrady is leaving his hometown team for Houston in a blockbuster trade that sends Steve Francis to the Orlando Magic and gives the Rockets one of the NBA's most intriguing duos.

The deal, which had been in the works for nearly two weeks, also sent forward Juwan Howard and guards Tyronn Lue and Reece Gaines to the Rockets. The Magic will acquire guard Cuttino Mobley and forward Kelvin Cato.

"I just knew it was going to take time," McGrady told ESPN Tuesday night. "I'm happy and it's time to move on."

The trade was finalized after Francis' meeting with Magic general manager John Weisbrod and other team officials in Orlando on Tuesday.

McGrady, a two-time NBA scoring champion, now joins 7-foot-5 Yao Ming to form a combination that potentially could be as dominant as the Los Angeles Lakers' three-time title twosome of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant.

"I sure hope so," McGrady said in the ESPN interview. "I can't predict the future, but it definitely would be nice. The ultimate goal is to win a championship for the Houston Rockets."

And with the Lakers splintering apart since coming up short in the NBA Finals, Houston immediately looks like a serious championship contender in the Western Conference next season.

McGrady signed with the Magic in 2000, thinking he and Grant Hill could push an up-and-coming squad over the top. But Hill's bad left ankle limited him to 37 games in four seasons, and McGrady's load grew heavier with each passing year.

Tired of carrying a mediocre franchise, McGrady vowed to exercise the opt-out clause in his contract that was to go into effect at the end of next season. But Orlando did not want him to leave without the team receiving compensation -- like O'Neal did eight years ago.

McGrady, 25, becomes the fourth defending scoring champion in NBA history to be dealt away, and the first since the Buffalo Braves sent Bob McAdoo to the New York Knicks in 1976.

Francis, a three-time All-Star, averaged 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 6.2 assists last season to join Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson and Hill as the only players in league history to average at least 15 points, five rebounds and five assists in each of their first five years.

Francis, Mobley and Yao led the Rockets to the playoffs last season for the first time in five years. Houston lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round.

But Francis, who flourished in an up-tempo offense for the previous four years, was put on the summer trading block after posting the worst offensive numbers of his career in new coach Jeff Van Gundy's slower-paced scheme.

When the deal was first discussed last week, Francis balked at joining the rebuilding Magic. But Francis' agent, Jeff Fried, said a talk between the point guard and Weisbrod after Thursday's draft helped alleviate some of the All-Star guard's concerns about joining the Magic.

Fried said Weisbrod convinced Francis that the Magic could improve quickly with the additions of No. 1 draft pick Dwight Howard, a 6-foot-11 high school star from Atlanta, and point guard Jameer Nelson, the point guard from St. Joseph's who won virtually every college player of the year award last season.

Francis was also impressed that the Magic wanted to make him the centerpiece of the rebuilding franchise.

"I think that he certainly believes in what John is trying to build," Fried told The Associated Press Tuesday. The Magic "could well have gotten almost any player in the league for Tracy McGrady. Steve felt pretty pleased with their reasons for talking to him and what his role might be in the rebuilding process."

Mobley, one of Francis' best friends, comes to Orlando after averaging 17.1 points and four rebounds a game in six seasons with the Rockets. A second-round pick by Houston in 1998, Mobley has become one of the league's most underrated players.

Cato, a 6-11 power forward, averaged 6.2 points and 6.2 rebounds in five years with the Rockets.

"Some days you are going to be some place. Some days you can be moved tomorrow," Cato told Houston television station KRIV. "You take it for what it's worth."

Howard, a 10-year veteran, has averaged 17.8 points and 7.4 rebounds with Washington, Dallas, Denver and Orlando. Last season, he was second on the Magic in scoring (17.0 points per game) and first in rebounding (7.0).

Lue averaged career highs of 10.5 points and 4.2 assists with Orlando last season, his first as a full-time starter. The 6-foot guard played on two championship teams with the Lakers in 2000 and 2001.

Gaines, the 15th overall pick of the 2003 NBA draft, saw little time as a rookie with the Magic. He averaged only 1.8 points in 9.6 minutes for the league's worst team.

"I think they did a tremendous job on this trade," McGrady said. "I think both teams are going to benefit."