T-Mac Packs; Goodbye Juwan, Hello Dwight?

Philip Maymin
Basketball News Services 

The Orlando Magic and Houston Rockets are potentially just hours away from finalizing a deal that would exchange Tracy McGrady, Juwan Howard, Andrew DeClercq, Tyronn Lue, and Reece Gaines for Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley, and Kelvin Cato. The biggest hangup apparently is not the possibility that the Bobcats will select Cato just to throw a wrench in the proceedings, and it is not any difficulty with the consummate professional Juwan Howard. Rather it is reportedly Reece Gaines. If the Bobcats select Gaines over the expected Orlando selection Zaza Pachulia, it would mean the whole deal needs to be reworked. One possibility to placate Charlotte may be a guarantee by the Magic to draft Dwight Howard, leaving Charlotte favorite Emeka Okafor for their new-found second overall pick, thanks to the Clippers, as their building block of the future.

Could today mark the end of an era in Orlando? Or is it the beginning of a new era of disgruntled stars? According to our own Bill "The Rocket Guy" Ingram, Steve Francis looks to be demanding a trade out of Orlando if he comes here, and speculation is that again the Bobcats might get involved. Francis demanded a trade once being drafted by the then-Vancouver Grizzlies, and it took a three-team, 11-player blockbuster to get it done. So don't doubt that if Francis is unhappy, the Magic are unhappy.

The entire fortune and future of the Magic franchise hinges on a team that hasn't played a single minute in a single game and a shooting guard in a point guard's body who has demanded trades or non-trades everywhere he's been.

What's clear is that Orlando GM John Weisbrod is bidding good riddance to the NBA's leading scorer one way or another. The comments he has made and the non-comments McGrady has tried not to make all point to a packing T-Mac. The Indiana Pacers, who have offered Ron Artest, Al Harrington, and others, may not be completely out of the picture though they have clearly taken a backseat in the spotlight's shine.

Charlotte reportedly also held in-depth talks with Orlando about potentially getting the number one overall draft pick, but those talks led nowhere.


Our own James Buell ofHoopsworld.comwrites: How can the Magic – reportedly intent on building a “winning culture” – trade their disgruntled superstar, Tracy McGrady, for a less talented, disgruntled player in Steve Francis?Of course, the trade I’m talking about is – for now – merely conjecture. The rumor has McGrady, Juwan Howard, and others heading to Houston for Francis, Cuttino Mobley, Kelvin Cato and piece parts. Stop me if I’m wrong, but didn’t this powerhouse trio of Rockets fail to make the postseason until Yao Ming joined the fray? And didn’t the principle Rocket in this deal, Francis, once demand to be traded from the Vancouver Grizzlies to the Rockets on draft day 1999?

Our own Bill "The Rockey Guy" Ingram ofHoopsworld.comwrites: Perhaps this deal will set off another deal or two. The Magic may have a second deal in the works that would send Francis somewhere else - like Charlotte - and bring an additional draft pick to Orlando.The Magic could send Francis practically home and land the #2 overall pick to go with the #1. Imagine Dwight Howard and Emeka Okafor both landing in Orlando. That would be something... This just in. Steve Francis has already told the Magic that if they do acquire him he wants to be traded elsewhere. We'll be keeping eye on this as it develops.

Marc Narducci ofThe Charlotte Observer writes: If healthy, Okafor would seem to be the class of the college crop, and he is likely to be taken by the Orlando Magic with the No. 1 pick.Measured by the NBA at 6 feet, 8 3/4 inches, he could become one of the league's elite power forwards. But will he be able to flourish on offense in the pros? Like his back, that's not exactly a favorite topic of conversation for him. "I averaged 21 (points) and 10 (rebounds), and I don't know what more I could have done," Okafor said of his performance in UConn's Final Four victories over Duke and Georgia Tech. "Maybe average 30 points per game?" For his junior season as a whole, he averaged 17.6 points and 11.5 rebounds. He finished his three-year college career with 441 blocked shots - the seventh-highest total in NCAA history. Despite the health questions and the concerns about his offense, there probably are few players in the draft who will be able to contribute immediately, which is what Okafor seems likely to do.

Brian Schmitz ofThe Orlando Sentinel writes: The Orlando Magic were working on a blockbuster deal Monday to send all-star guard Tracy McGrady -- and perhaps as many as three other Magic players -- to the Houston Rockets.According to several league sources and other reports, McGrady, forward Juwan Howard, point guard Tyronn Lue and perhaps point guard Reece Gaines will be traded to the Rockets for all-star guard Steve Francis, guard Cuttino Mobley and center Kelvin Cato and/or Bostjan Nachbar. The salaries among the Magic and Rockets players involved match up, coming within 15 percent as required by the league. The deal might not be finalized until July because of salary-cap complications. A league source said that for some of the Rockets involved, Orlando might not be their final destination and they could be dealt elsewhere.

Sam Smith ofThe Chicago Tribunewrites: Orlando Magic All-Star Tracy McGrady appears headed to the Houston Rockets in a massive player exchange that includes fellow All-Star Steve Francis and veterans Cuttino Mobley and Chicago native Juwan Howard. The deal is on hold pending Tuesday's expansion draft. Some of the players involved, perhaps as many as eight, could be taken by Charlotte.

John Denton ofFlorida Todaywrites: Already poised to trade Tracy McGrady and three other starters to Houston, the Orlando Magic expect to lose promising center Zaza Pachulia today when the expansion draft is held for the newly created Charlotte Bobcats. Pachulia, a 20-year-old native of the Republic of Georgia, showed promising flashes while playing in 59 games as a rookie for the Magic.

John Denton ofFlorida Todaywrites: The Orlando Magic and Houston Rockets are apparently on the verge of pulling off a blockbuster trade involving All-Stars Tracy McGrady and Steve Francis and several others, according to Francis' agent. Jeff Fried told the Houston Chronicle Monday that a deal sending McGrady to Houston and Francis to Orlando was imminent. Because Francis' contract falls under "base-year compensation" rules, the Magic and Rockets might have to involve the expansion Charlotte Bobcats in the deal. Charlotte will take part in the NBA expansion draft today. Contrary to an ESPN.com article that suggested that Howard was the player stalling the deal, the primary hangup is the inclusion of Gaines.Because Gaines was left unprotected by the Magic -- Howard was actually protected -- he could be picked today by the Charlotte Bobcats in the NBA expansion draft. The Magic might have to work out a deal to keep the Bobcats from selecting Gaines and ultimately wrecking the trade with the Rockets. One possible scenario is that the Magic agree to take Dwight Howard and not Emeka Okafor with the first selection in Thursday's NBA Draft. That would allow the Bobcats to snatch Okafor with the second pick. Charlotte general manager/head coach Bernie Bickerstaff has openly raved about wanting to build the new franchise around Okafor.