There's no truth to the rumor that Steve Francis was seen yesterday skipping through the Magic Kingdom with a pair of Mickey Mouse ears, but the rumor that he is going to Orlando for Tracy McGrady is finally true.
Francis, a three-time All-Star point guard, apparently dropped his objections to being dealt to the Orlando Magic yesterday, clearing the way for a blockbuster deal that will ship four-time All-Star guard McGrady, the reigning two-time NBA scoring champion, to the Houston Rockets.
The trade, which was formally announced on the Rockets' Web site and is subject to all the principals passing their team physicals, sends Francis, guard Cuttino Mobley and forward Kelvin Cato to Orlando for McGrady, guards Reece Gaines and Tyronn Lue and forward Juwan Howard. The trade is expected to be formally announced today in both cities.
Rumors of the trade leaked out before last week's draft, and the deal appeared to be a certainty until Francis expressed doubts about being moved to the Magic, which had the worst record in the NBA last season. The Magic was said to be talking with the Indiana Pacers and Phoenix Suns about a deal for McGrady in the week since word of the trade filtered out.
However, Francis, 27, who went to the University of Maryland, met with Orlando officials for two days and reportedly signed off on the trade after being assured the Magic would make moves to improve the team.
Orlando, 21-61 last season, got the first pick in last week's draft and selected high school forward Dwight Howard. The two are expected to form an inside-outside combo that could challenge for the title of the new Southeast Division, which will include the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Bobcats, Miami Heat and Washington Wizards.
In addition, forward Grant Hill, who has had four surgeries on his ankle since he was signed as a free agent four years ago and has played very little, is expected to make one last attempt to come back. A healthy Hill, added to a nucleus with Francis, Mobley, Cato and Howard, could make the Magic a formidable team in the Eastern Conference.
Oddly enough, Francis and Hill are two of only four players in NBA history to average 15 points, five rebounds and five assists for each of their first five seasons. Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson are the other two.
Meanwhile, McGrady, 25, who averaged 28 points last season after posting a 32.1 average the season before, will be partnered with center Yao Ming to become one of the most glamorous frontcourt/backcourt tandems.
McGrady, who can opt out of the final year of his contract after next season, apparently forced a trade when he refused to commit to staying in Orlando past next season. Magic management, still smarting from Shaquille O'Neal's departure via free agency eight years ago, was determined not to allow McGrady to leave without receiving compensation and placed him on the trading block.
"I just felt they kind of wanted me out," McGrady told the Orlando Sentinel. "That's how I felt. As far as keeping me ... if they had done some things, I'd be here. I don't want to leave. I'd be crazy to leave home. This is where my family is.
"What would you do if you were a GM and your star - a great guy who's never been in trouble - came to you and said he wanted out? Not call him? Not talk to him? Why not call him and wish him 'Happy Birthday'? Why not ask him about offseason acquisitions? Why not tell him how Grant Hill is doing, if he'll be ready? They obviously decided to move on."
Magic general manager John Weisbrod declined to comment to the Sentinel.
The deal comes with risks for both sides. Francis, who butted heads with Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy over his tendency to shoot first and pass second, has a reputation for being mercurial. The guard's image also took a hit during the season when he missed a team flight and instead attended the Super Bowl.
McGrady, on the other hand, prefers to have the ball in his hands. That may clash with Van Gundy's approach, which is to run the offense through Yao's hands. It became known that McGrady missed and was often late for practices, which would not sit well with the Rockets' coach, who is a disciplinarian.