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thebac
02-06-2004, 12:03 PM
Francis no longer Rockets' No. 1 option

If Jeff Van Gundy says it's hot, then Steve Francis is, most likely, going to argue it's cold.

"It's never going to be over as far as an endpoint," Francis said in the Houston Chronicle of their latest argument concerning his Super Bowl Sunday disappearance. "He's going to coach the way he wants to coach, and I'm going to play the way I want to play. There's always going to be conflict. It's not like we're going to be best friends. There are going to be days when he thinks I should have done this better, and there are going to be days when I think he should have done things better. We both understand that."

Or maybe it's Van Gundy saying it's cold and Francis opting for hot.

Steve Francis
Point Guard
Houston Rockets
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
47 16.7 5.6 5.9 .396 .756



"I would agree with that -- not that he'll play the way he wants to play -- but I agree with everything else," Van Gundy said.

But there is at least one thing they will agree on.

Steve "The Franchise" Francis is no longer the centerpiece of the Houston Rocket Franchise even if his teammates don't understand that yet.

"The best player on the team and the coach are going to always have their spats, regardless of what team you're on," Rockets forward Maurice Taylor said. "That's why they are the best player, they can have spats with the head coach."

Because if Francis really were the best player on the team, then why would he be allowed to shoot 14.8 times per game this season when he shot 16.2 times per game last year and 17.6 times the year before that.

As a result, his numbers have dropped off considerably across the board.

2002-03 Season: 21 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 6.2 apg, 1.7 spg, 0.5 bpg, 43% from field, 35% from 3, 80% free throw

2003-04 Season: 16.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 5.9 apg, 1.4 spg, 0.4 bpg, 39% from field, 29% from 3, 75% free throw

Of course, Van Gundy will tell you this is by design. He wants 7-foot-6 center Yao Ming to be the focal point of the offense. After all, Yao has shot 51 percent from the field over his brief career while Francis is at 43 percent. Van Gundy wants Francis to play a controlled game that sees Yao as the first option.

Francis, of course, wants an up-and-down game with plenty of fast breaks and 3-point shots.

So far, the change is philosophy is mixed.

Yao Ming
Center
Houston Rockets
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
48 16.1 9.1 1.4 .532 .769



So far this season, Yao has gone from scoring 13.5 points per game last year to 16.1 this year as the Rockets moved to a 27-21 record while scoring 87.2 points per game and shooting 43.4 percent from the field.

Last year, they were at 26-22 at this point of the season and finished averaging 93.8 points per game while shooting 44 percent from the field.

Last year, Yao shot the ball 9.8 times per game. This year, he's shooting the ball 11.2 times per game.

But regardless of these statistical results, Francis knows as well as Van Gundy that this trend will continue. This year, next year, the year after that, Francis' role is changing.

In 15 games in November, Francis took 241 shots. In 15 games in December, he shot 225 times. In 15 games in January, he shot 207 times.

"It's out of my mind," Francis said. "As far as prolonging it, I could care less. I don't have any bad feelings against him. I've still got to play for him, God knows how long. I have no problem with coach at all."

And, depending on how you look at it, Van Gundy said hot . . . Or cold.

"I don't look at it as a conflict between me and Steve," Van Gundy said. "Because you could have erased his name and put anybody else's name in there and it would have been the same course of action. Steve and I are fine. Like I said, I enjoy him. I'm sure there are things at times that we'll disagree on, just like I'll disagree with any player on."

Jackson running out of patience?

Lakers coach Phil Jackson seems to bending and bending and bending backwards for Kobe Bryant and you have to wonder if he's getting any closer to a breaking point.

Bryant was supposed to join the team Thursday night in Philadelphia for its game against the Sixers. He wasn't going to play, but Jackson expected him to be with his teammates. But one hour before tip off, the Lakers had no idea of his whereabouts, leaving Jackson to wonder if:

A) He was still suffering from the stomach flu.
B) His stitched finger was hurting too much to fly.
C) He didn't want to hear his hometown crowd boo him again.
D) He slipped again on a box in his garage while attending to urgent family matters during the Super Bowl.
E) His shooting guard had decided to test the free-agent market even sooner than expected.

or, the traditional favorite . . .

F) Weather.

"We understand. This has not been an easy week," Jackson said.

Bending . . .

"Those things we have to understand," Jackson said.

Bending . . .

"I haven't heard anything," Jackson said 60 minutes before tip off. "I don't know if it's weather or something's come up that delayed him. But he was supposed to be here between four and five."

Bending . . .

"It's good for him, to be with us here," Jackson said. "Be with us in this situation, join his teammates, see how we're playing, be first-hand in what we're going through right now, as far as the way we're playing the game."

The Lakers ended up getting blown out by the Sixers, 96-73, making only 28 of 82 shots while their defense allowed Philadelphia to shoot 49 percent from the field after shooting only 43 percent on the season as Bryant's agent finally contacted the team to tell it Kobe would, instead, meet the Lakers in Orlando on Sunday.

Of course, this was after he was originally supposed to meet the team in Cleveland on Wednesday.

Darko running in place

This isn't the idea of progress No. 2 pick Darko Milicic had in mind when he decided to join the NBA.

"(I will ask) what is the idea, what is the schedule they have for me?" Milicic said in the Detroit News. "They don't think I will start to play this year? I want to know that. I didn't think I was going to have big minutes, but I don't care. I just want a few minutes. I just want to do something good. I want to show what I can do. Right now, I don't have any minutes and I can't do anything."

Darko Milicic
Forward-Center
Detroit Pistons
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
15 0.9 0.7 0.2 .333 .286



When the season started, on Oct. 31, Milicic knew he wasn't going to start the game. He knew he wasn't going to play significant minutes off the bench. But he had no idea he was going to play only one minute, taking no shots and scoring no points.

He also had no idea that he would play a total of 16 minutes in November, 11 minutes in December and 20 minutes in January. So far in February, he hasn't played a single minute. In fact, he hasn't played since Jan. 16 when he logged nine minutes and no points.

Ten games later, he was looking for an explanation and couldn't have liked it when it came.

"There is no confusion between me and Darko. In fact, we talk all the time," head coach Larry Brown said. "He came in after lifting weights after practice and said to Dave (assistant coach Dave Hanners), 'What do I need to do to get better?', which I was really happy to hear him say because that to me is like a first-year college freshman asking how he can play more. He knows he needs to get better. I'd be worried if he didn't want to play. He's getting better, but he's not ready yet. Joe (Dumars) and I talked about this -- we don't think he's going to play."

But even so, he's handling it as best as can be expected.

"He's not frustrated, he's just competitive and wants to play," his agent, Marc Cornstein, said. "He's not satisfied with being the 12th man."

Even as he watches No. 1 pick LeBron James and No. 3 pick Carmelo Anthony log heavy minutes. So far this season, Milicic has played a total of 48 while James is at 1,848 and Anthony at 1,788.

"They're playing good," Milicic said. "Carmelo's playing good. But right now, I just care about me, because I am not playing. I am trying to do something good . . . Coaches say, 'You're young, wait. Be patient.' I am never going to tell them (coaches) that I am ready (to play). If they cannot see, I am not going to tell them. They know better than me."

McHale & Co. should stand pat
By Greg Anthony

There were a few surprises when the all-star rosters were announced, but as is the case every year, there are more deserving players than there are roster spots available. Nevertheless, it still will be an entertaining weekend.
I did receive quite a few passionate responses regarding the "Big 3" column earlier this week. I didn't give the old Celtics trio of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parrish any mention, but in all fairness I was focusing on the new millennium and therefore omitted quite a few deserving groups.

That said, let's get to the e-mail &

Brian Miller, from Minneapolis asks:
Do you think the TimberWolves will make any deals before the trading deadline? And do you think they have a shot at being the No. 1 or 2 seed in the West?


Oliver Miller has provided Minnesota a veteran presence off the bench.

A: Brian, if I'm Kevin McHale, I'm standing pat with the team I have. The one move they made -- acquiring Oliver Miller -- was a great one, because he has a great understanding of how to play the game and takes nothing away in terms of chemistry.

The real question is how long it will take for Wally Szczerbiak to get back and how they integrate him and Troy Hudson into the rotation. Remember, until last night's loss, the T-Wolves had the best record in the West, and they still lead the Midwest Division. I think they have the pieces to really be a factor in the West, and there is no doubt in my mind they could and should be a 1 or 2 seed.

Padraic Duffy from Rapid City, S.D., writes:

As a Celtics fan, I'm wondering how long do you think GM Danny Ainge can keep his job? Obviously he has to get another year, but this team, and the trades he has made to "improve" it are a joke. Jiri Welsch is nice, but Antoine Walker for Raef LaFrentz is going to go down as one of the worst trades ever. Keep your head up, Paul.

Ricky Davis
Guard-Forward
Boston Celtics
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
47 13.7 4.9 3.6 .447 .692


A: Padraic, I hear where you're coming from, but Danny Ainge is probably looking three years down the line and is rebuilding. They also got a 2004 first-round pick out of the deal, so they'll have two first-rounders in next year's draft. You really have to be patient and see what comes of those picks. Remember, Paul Pierce was a No. 10 pick, so there is a method to his madness. The real test comes in getting two guys who can have an impact and be part of a winning team. Plus, Ainge also has the flexibility to package those with someone else and still acquire a big-time talent.

With that being said, I don't see this team as a factor in the Eastern Conference for the next two years, and that's why Jim O'Brien resigned. The one question or concern I have is, how does Ricky Davis fit long-term, and can he become the kind of cancer that those in Cleveland felt he was? That is without question a bigger concern during this rebuilding phase.

Sam Ballah from Queens, N.Y., writes:

Many players have been early entries into the NBA draft in recent years. What is your take on this? Has it become a problem, or is it a good thing for the league?

Tracy McGrady
Shooting Guard
Orlando Magic
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
48 27.1 6.0 5.6 .421 .818


A: Great question. First of all, it makes the job of a GM a little more difficult, because you don't know what the learning curve for the young players will be. Will it take three or four years, as it did for T-Mac and Jermaine O'Neal? Or will they contribute from Day One, like LeBron and Carmelo? Or will you reach a point where you still don't know, as is the case with Eddy Curry and Kwame Brown?

Selecting talent is an imperfect science, because the majority of their success depends on their mental make-up. Do they really want to be great? Can they handle the pressure? It can be overwhelming for some, and that's why some guys don't pan out.

I'll give you one tidbit: If you look at the top 15 players in the league right now (and this is just one list; you can certainly debate one or two), you'll see a majority who left school early (or didn't attend at all) and entered the league young. Jason Kidd, Shaq, Kobe, KG, Jermaine O'Neal, T-Mac, Iverson, Duncan, Chris Webber, Nowitzki, Baron Davis, Stephon Marbury, Lebron, Paul Pierce, Peja, Ron Artest, Jamal Mashburn, Ray Allen and you could go on and on. Only Tim Duncan went four years. So with that kind of success ratio, I don't see the trend stopping any time soon.

Thanks, and keep the e-mail coming.


Peep Show

Utah Jazz: What's the difference between Andrei Kirilenko and all-star Andrei Kirilenko? "It's big pressure," the Russian told the Salt Lake Tribune. "It's pretty hard to keep [your] head in the game sometimes because everybody is waiting for something phenomenal. 'You're All-Star, come on show us.' No, I'm team player. So I must learn to not worry about being All-Star and just play my game . . . I don't think about personal stats. I'm trying to be all-around and help teammates. Create situations to make somebody open. People are going to expect too much now, maybe. I want to get back on winning road, not show I'm All-Star. That's not my game."

New Jersey Nets: Lawrence Frank is 5-foot-8, 33-years-old and head coach of the Nets, who are 5-0 since he took over. "Coaching is more than drawing up X's and O's on a clipboard," Frank said in the New York Times. "You're dealing with people. All I can do is give my best effort, be honest, direct and sincere. The players determine if they respect me or not . . . It's never this easy. We've been very, very fortunate. But we're still in the infancy stages. There's still a lot of feeling out to do."

Cleveland Cavaliers: Flip Saunders says forget about comparing LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony to Michael Jordan when they aren't even close to Kevin Garnett yet after both rookies said they wouldn't replace injured all-stars in the Classic. "They might be young, but that's the difference between those guys and a guy like (Kevin Garnett)," Saunders said the Lorraine Mornign Journal. "K.G. has an unbelievable amount of respect for the game. I'm sure that they were hurt, just like (Minnesota's Latrell Sprewell) was hurt. There are 17, 18 guys who deserve to be all-stars. They are all-stars, but only 12 get to go. I think that's a knee-jerk reaction by young players who felt slighted." In fact, KG made his first all-star appearance as an injury replacement and Saunders remembers his reaction. "I remember how excited he was," the coach said. "He never looked at that as a slap in the face. He looked at it as an unbelievable opportunity and something he was extremely grateful for."

New Orleans Hornets: It's been the best of seasons and the worst of seasons for the Hornets who started out 17-7 but have gone 9-16 since. "It's just been a tale of two halves," forward P.J. Brown said in the Times-Picayune. "In the first half we have been battling and playing well. But in the second half we've struggled. I think the guys are frustrated, disappointed and depressed. But we've got to stay positive."

Los Angeles Clippers: Corey Maggette is just waiting for someone to double-dog-dare him after spraining his right ankle. "I'm day-to-day," Maggette said in the Orange County Register after being listed as doubtful for the team's next game. "But if my team really needed me, I feel like I could go out there with a broken leg . . . During the season, there's nothing you can do about certain nagging injuries. You're never going to be 100 percent healthy. You just work through it. Right now, I'm moving, so I feel I could still go out and get 20 (points)."

Memphis Grizzlies: Hubie Brown can count and he feels 10 is better than 5 or 6 or 7. "No," Brown said in the Commercial Appeal after saying he was sticking with his 10-man rotation. "We're going to keep doing what we've been doing. The idea still is to wear you down. That's how we have to play. We're going with whoever is operating at their best that night. That's what it's all about with young teams. As the season is going on you're seeing growth in certain individuals. Then you're seeing chemistry when you have other groups of five."

Dirkenstien
02-06-2004, 12:47 PM
Utah Jazz: What's the difference between Andrei Kirilenko and all-star Andrei Kirilenko? "It's big pressure," the Russian told the Salt Lake Tribune. "It's pretty hard to keep [your] head in the game sometimes because everybody is waiting for something phenomenal. 'You're All-Star, come on show us.' No, I'm team player. So I must learn to not worry about being All-Star and just play my game . . . I don't think about personal stats. I'm trying to be all-around and help teammates. Create situations to make somebody open. People are going to expect too much now, maybe. I want to get back on winning road, not show I'm All-Star. That's not my game."

My goodness, how can you not absolutely love that attitude? What a great player to have playing for your team.

LRB
02-06-2004, 12:58 PM
Originally posted by: Dirkenstien

Utah Jazz: What's the difference between Andrei Kirilenko and all-star Andrei Kirilenko? "It's big pressure," the Russian told the Salt Lake Tribune. "It's pretty hard to keep [your] head in the game sometimes because everybody is waiting for something phenomenal. 'You're All-Star, come on show us.' No, I'm team player. So I must learn to not worry about being All-Star and just play my game . . . I don't think about personal stats. I'm trying to be all-around and help teammates. Create situations to make somebody open. People are going to expect too much now, maybe. I want to get back on winning road, not show I'm All-Star. That's not my game."

My goodness, how can you not absolutely love that attitude? What a great player to have playing for your team.

Now contrast that with Stevie Franchise's statement:

He's going to coach the way he wants to coach, and I'm going to play the way I want to play.

It's easy for me to see which of the 2 belongs in the All-Star game and which doesn't.