Boo who? Not the 'Franchise'
Van Gundy says Francis' leaving is not a reason to jeer his return
By JONATHAN FEIGEN
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle
vs. Orlando, 7:30 p.m.
Listings; KILT (610 AM)
Jeff Van Gundy insisted again that the deal was made to acquire Tracy McGrady rather than to move Steve Francis.
Assumptions that existed before the trade led to more assumptions after the deal, opinions that Francis has at times seemed to share. But Van Gundy never wavered.
If he had, he might understand why some in Toyota Center might give Francis the treatment Orlando gave McGrady. If there were reasons to move the former "Franchise" other than to get a different "difference-maker," there might be reasons to redirect the boos that engulfed McGrady last week.
Instead, Van Gundy said Francis should not be booed tonight in his first game back in Houston, but that he should be and probably would be cheered.
"I don't know why you'd boo him," Van Gundy said. "Frankly, I was surprised (in Orlando). Those years they had, the leanest teams that you could have, and he (McGrady) carries them into the playoffs, I mean you boo the guy? I was shocked by the booing. But it wasn't all. I watched. There are some smart people out there.
"But there is no reason you would be anything but appreciative for what Steve did. I think what every town should do when somebody comes back is in the introductions, cheer like heck for him, and then cheer your team and your guys during the game. I have no idea why (McGrady was booed). I would just chalk it up to ignorance."
The departures were vastly different. McGrady had come off his team's worst season of his tenure and wanted to be dealt. The Rockets had their best season of Francis' five in Houston, and Francis, for all his complaints since about how he was used, was clear he wanted to stay.
Francis has said since that much of his initial shock and disappointment was because he had just moved into the Houston home he had built. Until this season and the reflections on last season, Francis' greatest disagreement with Van Gundy, especially after his Super Bowl weekend suspension, seemed to be with Van Gundy's role in trading him. Even now, Francis said he is most excited about his return not to make a point but for the chance to be back in his house for a night.
"I can't wait to get to my home," Francis said. "I'll just have to see (what the reaction will be tonight). I don't think I burned any bridges with anybody there."
Van Gundy agreed.
"The most overplayed thing about our trade was a negative about Steve. Not at all," he said. "Steve had a very good year last year despite what anybody wants to do fantasy league-wise about statistics. Steve played well. That's why we got to the playoffs for the first time in five years.
"Certainly he was a difference-maker last year, and he's made a difference this year in Orlando. And Orlando has been smart trying to get him off the ball more so he can be a finisher."
When Francis and Kelvin Cato return tonight, they will find few former teammates.
Only Yao Ming and Maurice Taylor (who is on the injured list) played more than one season with Francis and Cato.
"He was like a big brother to me," Yao said. "I'm used to it now. The first game we had in Orlando, in the preseason, that really bothered me, to play against him. The second one, a few days ago, that was much better."
"I don't really like to face Steve on the court."
Yao said he would be upset if Francis is treated the way McGrady was. But the causes of their departures were so different there would seem little reason for Rockets fans to feel jilted as Magic fans were.
"That's different," Yao said. "Everybody will have to make a choice sometimes in life. (McGrady) made a choice. He's my teammate right now. I stay on his side. He did a great job in Orlando when he faced so much booing. That's something I never saw."
But to McGrady, there is another reason Francis is unlikely to get the treatment he received in his homecoming last week.
"Fans here are great," McGrady said. "They appreciate what he did, the time that he was here. That's a lot of respect and love that he has if they cheer him. You appreciate that. You really do when you come back. I can see them cheering, just by the reception I got from when I first came here. People here are really nice."
But "nice" is not the point. Van Gundy said Francis did not play his way out of town. No one expected him to be treated as if he did tonight when he is back.
Getting in sync
TONIGHT: ORLANDO MAGIC AT ROCKETS
Magic update: The Magic came back from their loss to the Rockets with a late run to beat the 76ers in Orlando. Steve Francis, coming into his first game in Houston against the Rockets, had just 14 points Saturday against the 76ers, but got the offensive rebound and game-winning basket. Grant Hill has been playing with a bruised right wrist and said he might have to skip a game or two. He is listed as day-to-day.
The Magic must: Rebound as they usually do. The league's top rebounding team (in total rebounds), the Magic were outrebounded by the Rockets 45-37, giving up 28 second-chance points.
Rockets update: With a win, the Rockets could move to four games better than .500 for the first time this season.
The Rockets must: Cut off the Magic's penetration. The Magic made 48.6 percent of their shots, largely by breaking down the Rockets off the dribble.
Check out: Steve Francis' emotions. Though his emotions can vary, he has had some of his best games in what he considers his biggest games.
With the Rockets holding their first full practice in almost two weeks because of a schedule stuffed with games and travel, guard David Wesley took the opportunity to put himself through extra shooting drills Sunday.
Wesley, a career 42.7 percent shooter, has made 34.7 percent of his shots in 13 games with the Rockets.
"This is what I needed, more work like this," Wesley said. "Right now I'm way out of sync. My elbow's flying. My rotation is not good. Balance is not good. The way the season has been going, lots of games, lots of travel, we don't get to practice much. It's important on days like this to get in here, get some shots, get some rhythm."
Rockets forward Tracy McGrady said the special aspects of playing against the Magic have worn off quickly.
"I think the first time (playing a former team) will always be the most anticipated one, the one you can't wait for," McGrady said. "Once you get that first one out of the way it will just be another game, regardless of if the reception is still the same. I think that first game will be the standout one."
In praise of Herb
Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy was strong in support of Lenny Wilkens when the Rockets were in New York last week, but with Wilkens' resignation he praised interim coach Herb Williams.
"He's a bright, bright guy," Van Gundy said. "He played a long time for a lot of coaches. I'm sure he gleaned something from all of them. He coached in the summer league, which is a benefit. He coached one game last year, which got his feet wet. I'm sure he's looking forward to the challenge."
The Rockets beat the Magic in Orlando last Thursday, but said the unusual schedule could make it more difficult to win the rematch.
"I think the advantage is to the losing team when you play in close proximity time-wise," Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "Most of these games are decided by the level of energy and urgency. When you have a negative result you have a better chance to get your team energized and intense.
"I know what we're against tomorrow. Our players have to understand that and we have to exceed our intensity and energy down in Orlando in order to win."