Magic, Rockets introductions mix bitter, sweet (1 Viewer)


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Jun 9, 2003
Magic, Rockets introductions mix bitter, sweet
By John Denton, Florida TODAY
ORLANDO — General manager John Weisbrod talked openly Wednesday of how the Orlando Magic would now be a more balanced team, a better team and even a more together team following the additions of Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley and Kelvin Cato.

The implication, of course, was that departing star Tracy McGrady was largely to blame for the Magic falling short in those categories this past season. (Related item: McGrady dazzled by Houston)

The lingering bitterness surrounding McGrady's departure following Tuesday's seven-player blockbuster trade between Orlando and Houston overshadowed the introduction of the Magic's three new players.

A day after McGrady said that he felt as if he was no longer wanted in Orlando, Weisbrod insisted it was McGrady who asked to be traded. He then hinted at the significant gulf that had formed between star player and Magic management.

On one hand, Weisbrod referred to McGrady "the most physically talented player in the league. But when asked it would be fair to say that McGrady is not his type of player, Weisbrod responded with a blunt, "Yes."

Weisbrod also questioned McGrady's work ethic, saying that if he were to "rip the doors off the gym, get in and compete, be a part of the organization, become a better player and make others around him better," he might still be a member of the Magic.

McGrady had said a day earlier that personal attacks from Magic management "crushed me."

Weisbrod said the Magic never felt they had to re-sign the player who led the NBA in scoring each of the past two seasons. He added that even if McGrady's contract had not been an issue — he can be a free agent following next season — there was no certainty McGrady would have been retained.

"It was just one of a number of options," Weisbrod said of keeping McGrady. "We feel like we're a significantly better team today than we were yesterday."

The Magic feel the trade addressed many of the holes exposed last season when they plummeted to a league-worst 21-61 record.

In Francis, the Magic get the athletic, play-making point guard they have sought for years. Cato is arguably their most feared defensive threat since Shaquille O'Neal departed eight years ago. And Mobley makes the loss of McGrady's 28 points a game somewhat easier to take because of his long-range shooting.

Weisbrod, a former NHL player and successful hockey executive, hopes to rebuild the Magic with a broad base of talent, rather than a team that rides one star player. Weisbrod has his ideas as to the characteristics a player should have and how a successful team should be constructed. And he insisted Wednesday that he has no plans of straying from those, even if it occasionally bruises the psyche of a star player somewhere down the line.

"I'm definitely excited about the identity of our team being different," he said. "Before our identity was Tracy and the supporting cast. I definitely would like the identity of our teams going forward to be about team. It's a team sport. Regardless of how significant or insignificant different players' roles are or where they fit into the roster one to 14, I'd like all of those guys going in the same direction."

Francis, Mobley and Cato, a trio that had played together in Houston the past five years, were certainly happy to be headed to the same team together. Along with Yao Ming, that threesome provided the core of a team that made the playoffs in the rugged Western Conference and pushed the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round.

That brought an assurance from Weisbrod that none of the three would be traded before next season.

"There is no bond. I really don't like these guys," Mobley said before bursting into laughter. "No, us being together is a great thing. We love playing with each other and love the game of basketball."

Francis said he was honored that he was the player the Magic traded for in the McGrady deal. But he also said it would be impossible to replace McGrady, who twice topped 50 points in a game last season and once poured in 62 against Washington.

"Actually, we're not here to replace him," Francis said. "We're here to fill voids the Magic know they have lacked in the last couple of seasons. You're going to get a gutsy effort every single night from all three of us. There's no trying to be too cute or trying to be too cool type of basketball from us.

"People call me 'The Franchise' throughout my career, but when you have players who are willing to dive on the floor, who are willing to challenge a 6-8 or 6-9 guy when he tries to punch your center, you try to punch. So that means you have somebody that's going to come in and lay it down. Not only myself, I can also say both (Cato and Mobley) are willing to do the exact same thing."

Francis said he was intrigued as to why the Magic struggled so badly, but it didn't take long to come up with an answer.

"Last year, I thought the Magic struggled cause they didn't have a lot of intensity," said the point guard, who averaged 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game. "I'm not saying they you have to be rah-rah-rah for 48 minutes, but at the same time, you just have to display a sense of urgency. I thought their players didn't do that. Once they got on a losing streak, to me, it looked like they hung their heads. I don't think we'll be in that situation to where we're losing that many games in a row."

Weisbrod seemed to put the majority of the blame for that losing at the feet of McGrady. He said McGrady's desire to leave Orlando dated back to February. And he laughed off the notion that McGrady left because he wasn't properly courted, saying "the fact that we didn't go chasing him down to change his mind and that I didn't call him on his birthday, that's true."

It's debatable whether Francis is one of the game's elite players, but Weisbrod said this Magic trade should debunk the myth that teams can never get equal value when trading away a star such as McGrady. And he suggested the Magic will be much better off without the four-time all-star and two-time scoring champion.

"I think it starts with how you define a superstar," he said. "I think superstars are defined by winning and making people around them better and making teams better. ... I feel like we definitely got what we wanted. I felt like we definitely got value. We feel good about it."

McGrady dazzled by welcome to Houston

HOUSTON — McGrady himself had a much happier introduction to the Rockets. He was escorted to his new home court in a white stretch limo, treated to a Jumbotron video of his most impressive highlights and greeted by hundreds of cheering fans.

McGrady was almost overcome by the hearty welcome to Houston.

"This is, by far, probably the best time that I've experienced in my career," McGrady said Wednesday. "This is unheard of. I've never seen or experienced anything like this. I'm not a guy that gets emotional but ... man, I almost got emotional up there."

That says a little about the reception in Houston and a lot more about the time he spent with the Magic.

McGrady, Tyronn Lue and Reece Gaines were showered with applause during a Wednesday news conference that was really more of a pep rally, a day after a blockbuster trade sent them and Juwan Howard from Orlando to the Houston Rockets.

McGrady, a two-time NBA scoring champion, hopes to find the kind of postseason success in Houston that eluded him in his hometown.

The 25-year-old becomes the fourth defending scoring champion in NBA history to be dealt away, and the first since the Buffalo Braves sent Bob McAdoo to the New York Knicks in 1976.

The Rockets hope a McGrady-Yao Ming combination can replace Shaq and Kobe Bryant as the dominant twosome in the NBA.

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