The Houston Rockets are looking for their fifth straight win tonight as they take on the Orlando Magic at the Toyota Center. That is big news in itself, considering this is on the heels of the Rockets losing 15 straight games. However, that is not the only news concerning the Rockets in tonight's game.
The Rockets will be honoring one of the most exciting players in franchise history during the game tonight. Steve Francis (aka Stevie Franchise) will be part of the Rockets Remix night and honored during halftime.
The Rockets legend will be signing autographs before the game and introducing himself to a new generation of Rockets fans. Although his time with the Rockets wasn't as long as he and his fans would have liked, it is still no less important considering what the franchise was dealing with at the time.
How Steve Francis made the departure of Hakeem a little less painful
The Rockets’ time as a dominant team in the NBA and the decade itself was coming to a close. Houston’s attempt at a big three two different times did not work out, and the greatest player in Rockets’ history’s career was coming to an end. Houston needed their next star, and it came from an unlikely place Vancouver.
Before Francis set foot in Vancouver, he let it be known he did not want to play for the Vancouver Grizzlies. Even after softening his stance and negotiating with the team to join them, a trade was worked out because negotiations fell through. Francis explains his reasoning in an article he wrote for The Players Tribune.
"Now, I know people in Vancouver are still pissed off at me for forcing a trade out of there. I damn near cried when I got taken by the Grizzlies at No. 2. But, I was not about to go up to freezing-ass Canada, so far away from my family when they were about to move the franchise anyway.
"I'm sorry, but … actually, I'm not even sorry. Everybody sees the business of basketball now. That team was gone."
This is where the Rockets come into the picture as part of the biggest trade in NBA history. The Rockets sent Michael Dickerson, Othello Harrington, Antoine Carr, and Brent Price, plus a first and second-round pick. It was part of an 11 player, three-team trade. It didn't take long for Francis to make his impact.
As mentioned earlier, this was toward the end of Olajuwon's career his and time with the Rockets. They had just come off a 31-19 strike-shortened year that was also the last season of Charles Barkley's career and one failed year with Scottie Pippen. So the Rockets needed an infusion of youth, which Francis provided.
Francis has a successful rookie year.
In Francis's first year with the team, he showed all the skills that made him the number two overall pick behind Elton Brand. Francis showed his passing skills averaging 6.6 assists for the year, his scoring ability averaging 18.0 points a game, and his athleticism finishing second in the slam dunk contest to Vince Carter.
Even though the team only finished 34-48, Francis showed why he was worth giving up several players by winning co-rookie of the year with Brand.
The following season was even better for Francis and the Rockets, as they went 45-37 and barely missed the playoffs. That year, Francis's scoring and three-point shooting improved, showing he could be a number one option going forward. But unfortunately, this was the last year Olajuwon would ever play for the Rockets. A salary dispute resulted in Olajuwon finishing his career with the Toronto Raptors (we will pretend that year never happened).
In 2001-2002, Francis would be voted into his first All-Star game as a starter but only played 55 games due to a foot injury. That injury and the Rockets’ 28-54 record paved the way for Yao Ming to be drafted the following season.
The pairing of Francis and Yao was an instant success, as the 7'6” center’s playing style merged perfectly with Francis. Both were named to the All-Star game, but the team missed the playoffs again, finishing 43-39. Rudy Tomjanovich would step down in 2003, and the Rockets hired Jeff Van Gundy as the next head coach.
It was evident from the start that Van Gundy wanted to play through Yao and make him the center of the offense (no pun intended). This would limit Francis's offensive game, which led to a fractured relationship between Francis and Van Gundy. Francis would eventually be traded for another All-Star in Tracy McGrady.
Francis’ time after the Rockets and his return
Francis wasn't happy with the trade but eventually adjusted to his new environment, averaging 21.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 7 assists per game in his first year. Unfortunately, it went downhill, as Francis was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team and eventually traded to the Knicks.
Francis played one year in New York before being traded again to the Blazers, who eventually bought him out. Francis did attempt a comeback with the Rockets in 2007-2008. However, he would only appear in 10 games before being traded to his original team, the Grizzlies, who, of course, were now in Memphis.
Francis would play four games with the Beijing Ducks of China before returning to the United States, as that would be the last professional basketball of Francis's career.
Even though Francis had off-court issues after his playing days, he has returned to basketball, becoming an investor and owner in The Basketball League, a minor league basketball organization. In addition, Francis owns the Houston Push, and another former Rocket, Moochie Norris, is the General Manager.
Francis came to the Rockets when the franchise was in transition, and during that short period in franchise history, he brought a lot of joy and excitement to Rockets fans worldwide. He may have never led the Rockets to a championship, but Stevie Franchise will always be a Rockets legend.