Over the summer Magic executives agreed to be the subjects of a so-called reality-series documentary that chronicled the team's tumultuous off-season. The film, which aired in August on the Sunshine Network in Orlando, was titled Under the Lights, but that's probably because Extreme Makeover was already taken. After last year's train wreck of a season--Orlando won a league-low 21 games and had the most fractious locker room this side of Los Angeles--rookie general manager John Weisbrod purged the roster, dealing four starters and bringing in nine new players. "We needed to start fresh and get guys who weren't going to be bigger than the team," Weisbrod says, taking a none-too-veiled dig at Tracy McGrady.
The effectiveness of Weisbrod's summer cleaning will depend largely on the play of Steve Francis. Acquired from Houston along with guard Cuttino Mobley and center Kelvin Cato for McGrady, Francis is still on the short list of the league's most dynamic playmakers. But he would just as soon hit the delete key on 2003-04. Though he was an All-Star for the third straight season, Francis shot just 40.3%, seemed confused in the Rockets' methodical half-court offense and even led the league with 19 technical fouls. But for Weisbrod, a former NHL player, Francis's passion remained persuasive. "When the scoreboard is on," Weisbrod says, "Steve Francis comes to play."
Although Francis initially balked at the trade, he has since put on a good face--as well as 15 pounds of muscle. He also joined forward Grant Hill (remember him?) in organizing a team-bonding trip to Las Vegas. "Of course we're going to have doubters after what happened last season," Francis says, "but we can be good." --L.J.W.
ENEMY LINES an opposing team's scout sizes up the Magic
"One of the hardest things is to trade a scorer like Tracy McGrady and get scoring back, but they pulled it off in getting Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley. Both guys are capable of creating for themselves and penetrating to the basket, but they need to think about the quality of their shots instead of the quantity. The ugliest scenario is that the team underachieves and Francis and Mobley try to take over by jacking up shots.... While the only returnees who played key roles last year are Andrew DeClercq and Keith Bogans, it shouldn't take long for the team to blend. Three fifths of the lineup--Francis, Mobley and Kelvin Cato--started together in Houston.... Francis is a surprisingly coachable player, but he just doesn't have a feel for point guard. Last year it looked as if he'd made up his mind before the play that he was going to pass to Yao Ming; then it would wind up being a lost possession, when he should have taken the shot. That's where the rookie Jameer Nelson could help. Against some teams they can play Nelson alongside Francis and use Mobley as a terrific sixth man.... The Number 1 pick in the draft, Dwight Howard, will be good eventually, but he has no back-to-the-basket game and he's going to get pushed around. Still, he should be able to block shots from the weak side and finish around the basket.... I've been disappointed by Hedo Turkoglu's inconsistency, but this is his first chance to serve as a leading offensive option, and he could thrive.... When I talk about their contending for the playoffs, I don't even mention Grant Hill, and that's how it should be. If he can give them 20 minutes a night, so much the better."
Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley are two of the three players--along with Allen Iverson--to average 40 minutes in each of the last three seasons.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
with 2003-04 statistics
Record: 21-61 (15th in East)
Points scored: 94.0 (12th in NBA)
Points allowed: 101.1 (29th)
Coach: Johnny Davis
(second season with the Magic)
KELVIN CATO [New Acquisition]
DWIGHT HOWARD (R) [New Acquisition]
STEVE FRANCIS [New Acquisition]
CUTTINO MOBLEY [New Acquisition]
NEW ACQUISITION (R) Rookie (high school stats) (r) Rookie (college stats)
*PVR Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 86) ‚Ä†2002-03 stats
In the high-flying Francis, Orlando got a point guard who plays hard, scores a bunch and could make locker room discord disappear.