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Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Francis Factor: Orlando Thrives Without the Departed Former All-Star

The Orlando Magic are 12-4, just one game behind the Utah Jazz for the best record in the NBA. Barely nine months ago, the Magic traded away three-time All-Star Steve Francis to the New York Knicks for, essentially, nothing (Penny Hardaway's expiring contract and Trevor Ariza, who is averaging less than 6 ppg this year). This may be the best example ever of "addition by subtraction." This year Francis is averaging 12.2 ppg, shooting .436 from the floor and he has a 51/30 assist-turnover ratio.

Orlando originally acquired Francis (and Cuttino Mobley) by trading Tracy McGrady to the Houston Rockets. As I discussed in this space on January 15, John Weisbrod--the "mastermind" behind that deal--rapidly went from being an NBA General Manager to being an NHL scout which is, with all due respect, an even greater fall from grace than Francis has had. Let's look at the three most recent teams that Francis has "touched." Dwight Howard is blossoming in Orlando now that he is not limited to crashing the offensive boards for leftovers while Francis dribbles away the shot clock--and Orlando's current starting point guard, Jameer Nelson, is averaging 14.7 ppg and shooting .530 from the field (his assist-turnover ratio, 57-43, is just as lousy as Francis' but there is no doubt that he has better chemistry with Howard and the other Magic than Francis ever did); the Rockets are in a tight three way "battle of Texas" with Dallas and San Antonio for the Southwest Division crown. Meanwhile, Francis' Knicks are 6-11, despite being graced by the presence not only of "Stevie Franchise" but also "Starbury." The Orlando Sentinel's Brian Schmitz does not think that it is coincidental that Orlando's rise began almost immediately after Francis' departure.

Houston and Orlando solved their problems with Francis but what should the Knicks do? This may sound crazy but I think that the Knicks should cut Marbury and Francis--today. The team was lousy last year despite being coached by Larry Brown, who specializes in reclamation projects. This season is nearly a fifth over and the Knicks are still lousy. Isiah Thomas' job as President/Coach is on the line and his head is going to be on the chopping block if he casts his lot with these two guys. Thomas has said that he will allocate minutes based on performance. What better message could he send to the rest of his roster--which does contain some promising young players that Thomas has acquired--than to get rid of two players who are not coachable and don't play defense? Would the Knicks really be that much worse than 6-11 without Francis and Marbury? Marbury's numbers are even worse than Francis' (9.9 ppg, .380 field goal shooting, 72/35 assist-turnover ratio). The way that the Knicks have thrown away money in recent years I doubt that they would blink at absorbing Francis and Marbury's bloated contracts. Given the choice of paying them to play or paying them to go away, I think that the Knicks' record (and the records of Houston and Orlando, not to mention the teams that have improved after Marbury left, which could be the subject of another article) speaks pretty loudly that Francis and Marbury should be sent on their merry way.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:03 AM

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