Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Magic got best of McGrady-Francis deal



By PETER KERASOTIS
Florida Today

I feel sorry for Yao Ming. Now he has to play basketball with Tracy McGrady and a bunch of guys that T-Mac said weren't good enough.

So long, Tracy. We hope you find whatever it is you're looking for but were so unwilling to work hard for.

We'll see how good the Rockets will be with T-Mac and a handful of castoffs from the NBA's worst team.

Orlando and Houston finally executed their blockbuster trade Tuesday, with the Magic shipping a disgruntled and disinterested McGrady, as well as Juwan Howard, Tyronn Lue and Reece Gaines, to Houston for Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley and Kelvin Cato.

Essentially, the Magic traded McGrady for an All-Star point guard in Francis and a sharp-shooting two guard in Mobley. That's two starters for one. Not bad.

The Magic also dumped a pair of point guards in Lue and Gaines. Since they now have Steve Francis and first-round pick Jameer Nelson, Lue's backup role was no longer needed. And Gaines has been a bust since he first stepped foot in Orlando.

The Magic also dumped Howard's crippling salary. He's a nice player, and a nice guy, but slow and woefully inconsistent on short jumpers, which should normally be a power forward's bread and butter. Besides, Howard's best years, which were always fairly mediocre anyway, are behind him.

Howard could've helped this upcoming season. But if the other Howard, and that would be former prep sensation Dwight Howard, develops as quickly as the Magic say he will, then it's good for Orlando to get out from underneath Juwan's contract a year too soon, rather than a year too late.

Boil it all down, and the Magic got an All-Star and two other starters for one superstar, one starter and two throw-in scrubs.

Francis solves Orlando's glaring point guard problem and between him and Mobley, they'll more than make up for T-Mac's prodigious scoring output. Cato isn't the permanent answer at center, but he'll be the best the Magic have had in a while. Throw in a healthy Grant Hill, and I do think he'll be healthy, and you have a starting five of Francis, Mobley, Hill, Dwight Howard and Cato.

Something tells me they'll win more than 21 games.

Something also tells me that Magic general manager John Weisbrod isn't done yet.

What does it tell you that this was the best the Magic could get for the league's scoring champion the past two seasons? It should tell you that McGrady has a reputation. The NBA is a small community. Word gets around.

There are some wrinkles in Francis, too, specifically his missing a team flight to attend the Super Bowl. But Weisbrod believes the team-first environment he is laying as the foundation for this franchise will iron out such wrinkles. Besides, the missed flight was more an aberration than the rule. This guy is a hard worker and dedicated teammate.

In fact, everything you didn't like about Tracy you'll love about Francis. Where Tracy was soft and lazy, Francis is tough and dedicated. Think of him as a taller and more talented Darrell Armstrong. And Mobley will give Orlando the sharp-shooting, three-point threat they haven't had in a while.

Where T-Mac didn't have the respect of his teammates, Francis does.

There is a story from last season when the Magic were playing Cleveland and McGrady took a hard foul that knocked him to the floor. During a timeout, Magic coach Johnny Davis told his players he wanted retaliation; he wanted to see LeBron James knocked on his backside.

It never happened.

When told the story, Weisbrod responded, "That tells you what Tracy's teammates thought of him."

Maybe things will be different for T-Mac in Houston. He is arguably the NBA's most talented player. And he will have Ming in the low post, providing the ying and yang of superstar center and guard that many think is necessary to win an NBA championship.

The Magic, meanwhile, are gathering a group that resembles the Detroit Pistons, who just won the NBA championship.

We'll see which philosophy works.

I feel sorry for Yao Ming.




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