It was an ordeal that began nearly two months ago, when Steve Francis expressed his displeasure with being drafted by the Vancouver Grizzlies. Yesterday the episode came to an end, with Francis never having to put on the uniform of the team in the Canadian city that he appeared to despise.
On the day that he canceled a news conference on a topic that he never revealed, Francis was traded yesterday to the Houston Rockets in a three-team, 11-player deal -- the largest trade in NBA history.
When the deal was finally approved by the NBA last night, the Rockets had received Francis and Tony Massenburg from Vancouver and Don MacLean and a future first-round pick from Orlando. The Grizzlies received Michael Dickerson, Antoine Carr, Brent Price and Othella Harrington and a future first-round pick from the Rockets. Orlando received Lee Mayberry, Rodrick Rhodes, Makhtar Ndiaye and Michael Smith from Vancouver.
"I wouldn't describe it as being relieved," said Vancouver general manager Stu Jackson. "It was just that the relationship would not be in the best of both of our interests. And that's sad."
Francis was unavailable for comment, having canceled his news conference in which he was expected to express his displeasure with having to play in Vancouver. The Rockets had not spoken with Francis as of last night, but were confident they could sign the second pick of this year's draft who is projected as the team's starting point guard.
"We think in Steve Francis we're probably going to get the most exciting player in the draft," said Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovich. "Very explosive, great in the open court. Real hard to contain, just a super athlete.
"All the coaches he's been involved with just love him as a kid," Tomjanovich said. "He's unselfish, but he's talented. I think he's a very big piece looking toward our future."
The Rockets and Grizzlies began trade talks two weeks ago, as it became obvious that Francis would not change his views about playing in Vancouver. The teams appeared to have a deal finalized Thursday, and expected to get league approval earlier yesterday. But Orlando became involved in the deal at about 2 p.m. yesterday, delaying a news conference that the Grizzlies had scheduled for 4 p.m.
While Francis has been heavily criticized for his role in the summer-long ordeal during which he appeared to make peace with fans in Vancouver during a visit there on July 21, the entire episode is not without precedent.
Danny Ferry played a year in Italy rather than becoming a member of the Los Angeles Clippers, who drafted him in 1989. The Clippers eventually traded his draft rights to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In football, local fans vividly recall 1983 when the Baltimore Colts were snubbed by John Elway, who announced, "I'm know I'm not playing in Baltimore." Elway's threat to play professional baseball in the New York Yankees organization led to his becoming a member of the Denver Broncos.
Francis can only hope that his career follows the same path as Elway, who retired after winning his second straight Super Bowl in January. While playing with Vancouver's young players would likely have been more beneficial to the up-tempo style of Francis, perhaps the Maryland product will gain some wisdom playing alongside veterans Scottie Pippen, Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley, who is expected to re-sign with Houston soon.
Gary Williams, who coached Francis at Maryland, spoke out in defense of his former player, who shunned Vancouver because of his displeasure over playing shooting guard, and his feeling that playing in Vancouver would adversely affect his marketing possibilities.
"This isn't anything that hasn't been done before," Williams said. "They feel the marketing ability for Steve in the United States is much better than it would be in Vancouver, which might be true.
"But it all comes down to how well Steve plays," Williams added. "You might get a little more [marketing] that first year before you play, but it all comes down to playing well. I think Steve will play well once he gets his chance."
While most lottery picks made visits to the teams that drafted them, Francis did not visit Vancouver in the days immediately after the draft. In fact, when Francis did make his first trip, the Sunday after the draft, he did so in secret, opting not to meet the local media.
Both sides seemed to make peace when Francis made a visit to Vancouver on July 21. But Jackson's tone during a Tuesday teleconference -- in response to word that Francis had scheduled a news conference -- revealed the two sides were far apart. Shareef Abdur-Rahim, the Grizzlies' top player, said he had spoken to Francis over the summer, trying to get his feel for playing in Vancouver.
"I wasn't trying to sell the team -- my mind-set was if you didn't want to be here, it's hard to convince another man to do something he didn't want to do," Abdur-Rahim said. "He didn't want to be far away from his family, and I guess Vancouver was unfamiliar territory for him.
"I can't be concerned with the Steve Francis situation," Abdur-Rahim added. "With this trade, we definitely got better. It was bad for our team and bad for our city to have a guy who didn't want to be there."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Eleven players changed clubs in the three-team trade between Houston, Vancouver and Orlando. Who went where:
Houston: The Rockets receive the rights to Steve Francis and Tony Massenburg from Vancouver and Don MacLean and a first-round pick from Orlando.
Vancouver: The Grizzlies get Antoine Carr, Michael Dickerson, Othella Harrington, Brent Price and a first-round pick from Houston and a second-round pick from the Magic.
Orlando: The Magic gets Lee Mayberry, Makhtar Ndiaye, Rodrick Rhodes and Michael Smith from Vancouver.