Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Francis traded to Grizzlies
By Marc Stein
Nearly a decade after he was reluctantly drafted by the Vancouver Grizzlies, Steve Francis is going to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Yet it remains to be seen whether the injury-plagued guard -- who convinced Vancouver to trade him to the Houston Rockets before he ever played an NBA game -- makes it onto the court in Memphis.
The Grizzlies acquired Francis on Wednesday in a trade with the Rockets in exchange for a conditional second-round pick in 2011. The trade also calls for Memphis to reacquire a 2009 second-rounder, which it had dealt to Houston on draft day in June, and for the Rockets, according to NBA front-office sources, to pay the remainder of Francis' $2.6 million salary for this season.
Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace told ESPN.com that the trade was made with the intent of keeping Francis and giving the 31-year-old an opportunity to prove that he can still play. But Francis, whom the Grizzlies expect to report by the weekend, has been out since February after having surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right knee.
Although he remains one of the most popular players in Rockets history after his first stint with the club, Houston has been hoping for months to find a trade taker for Francis, because shedding his contract creates the flexibility under the NBA's luxury-tax threshold that the Rockets need to sign another player.
It has been widely presumed in NBA front-office circles that Dikembe Mutombo would be that player. Back in training camp, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey described the prospect of re-signing Mutombo as "our P.J. Brown move," referring to the Boston Celtics' signing of Brown well after last season started. Mutombo even still has a Rockets locker at the Toyota Center, even though the 42-year-old center has not been with the team since May.
Mutombo, though, said at a recent fundraiser for his hospital in his native Congo that he "will be in Boston or San Antonio by the end of the year." Celtics coach Doc Rivers has confirmed that Boston is interested in signing the 17-year veteran center but said as recently as last week that he still expects Mutombo to go back to Houston.
Francis averaged 19.0 points, 6.3 assists, 6.0 rebounds and 1.6 steals in six-plus seasons with the Rockets. He was the main piece Houston surrendered in its trade with Orlando in the summer of 2004 for Tracy McGrady, but Francis wound up playing only 10 games with the Rockets last season after returning to the team as a free agent in July 2007, averaging just 5.5 points and 3.0 assists.
As the second overall pick in the 1999 draft out of Maryland, Francis immediately voiced his reluctance to play in Vancouver and eventually coerced the Grizzlies into dealing him to Houston in a three-team, 11-player trade. He was the NBA's co-rookie of the year with Elton Brand in 2000 and made three All-Star appearances for the Rockets -- two as a starter voted in by the fans -- before a series of injuries and disappointments derailed Francis' career.
An up-and-down stint with the Magic deteriorated quickly after Francis' best friend, Cuttino Mobley, was traded to Sacramento halfway through Francis' and Mobley's first season in Orlando. The Magic then moved Francis to the New York Knicks at the 2006 trade deadline, but then-coach Isiah Thomas' belief that Francis and Stephon Marbury could co-exist never panned out. That Francis' health was fading didn't help.
Portland acquired Francis on draft day in 2007 as part of a deal sending Zach Randolph to the Knicks but the Trail Blazers quickly bought out the remainder of Francis' contract, setting up his return to the Rockets.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.