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Sunday, January 15, 2006

Revisiting the McGrady-Francis Trade

On Thursday, the Orlando Magic suspended Steve Francis indefinitely for “conduct detrimental to the team.” Apparently, the final straw with Francis is that he refused to check back into the game when the Magic were being blown out 103-87 by Seattle with 3:22 left last Wednesday. Considering that Francis had 10 points and six turnovers at that point one might wonder why Magic Coach Brian Hill would want to put him back in the game. The Magic eventually lost 113-104.

Much attention has been paid to the trade that sent Shaquille O’Neal to the Miami Heat in exchange for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and Brian Grant, but history may well show that the deal that shipped Tracy McGrady to Houston for Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley has more long term significance. Miami has a small window of opportunity to win a title with Shaq; the Rockets have been grounded so far this season by injuries to McGrady and Yao Ming, but those two All-Stars should help to make Houston a strong team for the next several years. McGrady and Yao led Houston to a 51-31 record last year, the team’s best mark since 1997, and the Rockets took a 58-win Dallas team to seven games in a first round playoff series. McGrady averaged 30.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg and 6.7 apg versus Dallas and his 29.8 ppg career playoff scoring average ranks third in NBA history behind Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson. McGrady has made the All-NBA Team for five straight seasons and figures to earn that honor many more times.

Ralph Wiley, who wrote with tremendous verve, style and insight before his untimely passing in 2004 at the age of 52, referred to McGrady as the “Kwisatz Shaderac,” a slight alteration of the spelling of the term that Dune author Frank Herbert used to describe the novel’s central character, a savior figure who was the “shortening of the way”—a man who could go to places in space and time that no other man can go. In an April 23, 2005 column in the Houston Chronicle, John Lopez declared, “It’s easy now to understand that the reputation and frustrations that haunted McGrady in Orlando were badly misguided. That team didn’t get it. The Magic didn’t know McGrady is not the sullen or selfish type he was made out to be. He is one who internalizes emotions and is sensitive to resentment from teammates.”

John Weisbrod, the Orlando Magic General Manager who orchestrated the Francis trade, publicly questioned McGrady’s toughness after privately telling McGrady that the deal would be handled with class. Weisbrod compounded the damage to Orlando's roster by trading Mobley, Francis’ best friend and a good clutch shooter, to Sacramento on January 10, 2005 for a broken down Doug Christie. Mobley is now with the L.A. Clippers and has played a key role in revitalizing that team, while Christie ended up in Dallas before retiring from the NBA. After only 14 months on the job, Weisbrod resigned in May 2005, saying, “It’s not in the best interest of the organization of having a GM that, in his heart, would trade three NBA championships for one Stanley Cup.” Weisbrod ended up taking a job as a scout with the Dallas Stars; Magic fans must be thrilled that the future of their team has been shaped by a man who would rather be an NHL scout than an NBA GM.

It is possible that the Magic ultimately will have nothing to show for giving up one of the elite players in the NBA. Of course, even if Francis returns to action he is hardly McGrady’s equal: Francis has not earned a single All-NBA selection and has made one playoff appearance in his first six NBA seasons. His current suspension is just the latest line on his rap sheet; Francis was suspended by the NBA last season for kicking a courtside photographer and he was suspended by the Rockets for missing a team flight in 2004. His poor shot selection, high rate of turnovers and indifference to defense make the nickname “Stevie Franchise” nothing more than hyperbole. The Magic’s improvement last year had much more to do with Grant Hill’s return to All-Star status and the play of number one draft pick Dwight Howard than anything that Francis did.

Ralph Wiley referenced Frank Herbert’s Dune to explain McGrady’s greatness and a quote from the Empire Strikes Back summarizes the McGrady-Francis trade from Orlando’s perspective. After betraying Han Solo to preserve the autonomy of Cloud City, but realizing that Darth Vader has no intention of keeping his end of the bargain, Lando Calrissian declares, “This deal is getting worse all the time.”


Ralph Wiley’s April 30, 2003 article, “The Sleeper has Awakened”:


John Lopez’ April 23, 2005 column:


posted by David Friedman @ 9:30 PM


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At Sunday, January 22, 2006 1:48:00 AM, Blogger Seth Anderson said...

I miss Ralph Wiley.

And Francis is the worst kind of NBA "star" - a fairly talented player who believes himself much better than he really is. Houston certainly got the better of the deal, especially if JV Gundy either gets fired, or loosens the offensive reins, so to speak. After all, the 90's era of smash mouth basketball seems to be ending.


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