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Friday, February 24, 2006

Francis and Marbury: Not Exactly the Second Coming of Frazier and Monroe

Isiah Thomas is arguably the greatest 6-1 and under basketball player ever. He did not receive the credit that he deserved as coach of the Indiana Pacers and he got more blame than he should have for the CBA fiasco (the league was in trouble before he got involved and was doomed once the NBA decided to fund its own minor league in the form of the NBDL). As an executive in Toronto and now New York, Thomas has drafted perennial All-Star Tracy McGrady, 1996 Rookie of the Year Damon Stoudamire, Channing Frye and Nate Robinson. Thomas won an NCAA title and two NBA titles as a player and knows more about basketball than 99% of the people who take such glee at firing shots at him. That said, I am at a loss to explain Thomas' latest move, pairing Steve Francis with Stephon Marbury in the Knicks' backcourt. Francis and Marbury both monopolize the ball, dribbling and dribbling and dribbling until they can work themselves free for a shot. Some have suggested that these two players are in some way similar to Thomas but that is ludicrous: Thomas was a winner at every level of the game, made his teammates better and performed at a high level in the playoffs. Francis and Marbury have never won anything significant, demonstrably do not make their teammates better and scarcely have postseason resumes whatsoever. Marbury has long been the anti-Jason Kidd: Kidd's teams improve when he arrives and get worse when he leaves, while Marbury's teams do the opposite (I know that in some of these cases there were other personnel changes as well, but the trend for both players is very clear). Francis and Marbury are not this generation's Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe and, while Francis' added scoring punch may be worth a win or two this season, there appears to be no semblance of a long term plan of improvement for the Knicks.

Looking at this from Orlando's perspective, the happiest person is probably Dwight Howard, who can actually get some meaningful touches in the post now that Francis is gone. Orlando will now build around Howard, try to find out if Darko Milicic can play or not, and use their extra salary cap room to attempt to woo a free agent; attracting a talented player to come to Florida to play alongside a stud like Howard will not likely be very difficult, so the long term prospects in Orlando are a lot better than they were before. Still, as Orlando Sentinel writer Mike Bianchi points out in his February 23 column, "It's now official: The Magic's trade of Tracy McGrady will go down as one of the worst in recent NBA history. In effect, the Magic traded one of the game's most dominant scorers for what has become Darko Milicic, Carlos Arroyo and Trevor Ariza. Translation: The Magic traded T-Mac for Harpo, Groucho and Darko." I made essentially the same point a month ago in this post:

Revisiting the McGrady-Francis Trade

Bianchi does not share my optimism that Orlando will be able to land a superstar with their salary cap space, suggests that Orlando may be one of the worst teams in the league this year and next year and concludes, "All you can do is shake your head at the fiasco the Magic's trade for Francis has become. Of course, this is what you get when you turn over the keys to an NBA franchise to a minor-league hockey GM. Remember what impressed former GM John Weisbrod the most about Francis before he traded T-Mac for him? True story: Weisbrod was infatuated with Francis because he slugged Phoenix power forward Amare Stoudemire in the mouth after Stoudemire taunted Houston center Yao Ming. In hindsight, Weisbrod wasn't looking for a point guard; he was looking for a goon."

As I have stated and written repeatedly, the Lakers dealing Shaq received a ton of negative publicity but the T-Mac-Francis deal may have more lasting impact by pairing T-Mac and Yao and by setting Orlando back for years; the Magic are very fortunate to have landed Dwight Howard in the draft and his emergence will soften the blow of losing T-Mac for spare parts and loose change.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:04 AM

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