Being No. 2 a No. 1 pain for Francis

July 01, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

WASHINGTON -- Steve Francis already is in excellent NBA company. Like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, he holds a grudge against Chicago Bulls general manager Jerry Krause.

So, Steve, did the Bulls make a mistake overlooking you?

"They took a big gamble not picking me," Francis shot back.

OK, Steve, tell us how you really feel about the Bulls selecting Duke's Elton Brand with the No. 1 pick and the Vancouver Grizzlies taking you second in last night's NBA draft.

Francis is either the league's next head case or its next great warrior, but you had to love his raw, emotional reaction to the first snub of his professional career.

He wanted to be No. 1.

What's wrong with that?

The former Maryland star walked slowly to the stage at the MCI Center after being picked, biting his lip in apparent anger, then suddenly raised his arms in triumph to the cheering crowd.

Judging from Francis' body language, you would have thought that he was headed to the Quad City Thunder. Donovan McNabb looked happier after getting booed when the Philadelphia Eagles took him second in the NFL draft.

Francis, 21, likely will be ripped from coast-to-coast -- he is due $9 million as a high first-rounder. But at least his act wasn't packaged. It was brutally honest, from the heart.

And yes, a little much.

Rookie of the Year, Steve?

"No doubt," he said.

But with which team? Vancouver GM Stu Jackson said he wanted to keep Francis, but also left open the possibility of a trade. The Grizzlies already have a point guard -- Mike Bibby, last year's No. 2 pick.

Details, details.

The draft might have lacked franchise players, but it made for terrific theater, and the fun isn't over yet.

Four Duke players went in the first 14 picks, a record number of first-rounders for one school. Tell us, Corey Maggette, how did it feel to be unlucky 13? And tell us, Mike Krzyzewski, how did you lose the NCAA final?

The Clippers took Lamar Odom at No. 4 (perfect). The Wizards took Richard Hamilton at No. 7 (a blind squirrel finds an acorn). The Knicks took Frederic "French Fraud" Weis at No. 15, leaving St. John's Ron Artest for the Bulls with the next pick.

Artest didn't take the Knicks' rejection personally.

"They need a center," he reasoned, figuring the 7-foot-2 Weis might eventually replace Patrick Ewing. "Patrick's almost gone."

Ewing might be surprised to learn some punk from Queens all but announced his retirement, but Artest's garrulous New York act was nothing compared with Francis' song and dance.

Francis denied he was making a statement with his brooding march to the stage -- "That's the way I am, nonchalant about everything. That's just the way I walk," he said.

Still, his actions spoke loudly, and so did his words.

"I like it," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "I think Steve is a very confident young man. He has achieved at every level. He would have been a great point guard for the Bulls if they took him. And the Bulls need a point guard."

Actually, the Bulls need everything, and they could have drafted another No. 23, a fearless, electrifying player who welcomes every challenge.

Lest we forget, Jordan was the No. 3 pick in 1984, behind Hakeem Olajuwon and Sam Bowie. He remembered the slight only for the rest of his career.

No one would suggest that Francis is another Jordan. And no one would deny that Brand possesses a strong will of his own. Only time will tell if Krause made the right choice, but Francis was in no mood for a philosophical discussion.

By positioning himself against Krause -- the dunderhead who broke up one of the most popular dynasties in sports history -- he now stands on the side of truth, justice and the American way.

Can't you just see Jordan and Pippen chuckling at Francis' veiled criticism of Krause? Can't you just see Francis doing a 360 over Brand at the United Center next season?

Brand said he deserved to be selected No. 1, but his game is not yet NBA-friendly. He doesn't shoot well. He doesn't play above the rim. He has strong hands and quick feet, but at 6 feet 8, can he play power forward?

"The height is something that's very deceptive," Krause said in Chicago. "He's going to play a lot larger in that he has long arms and huge hands."

We know, Jerry -- Brand's vertical reach measures 9-2 and his horizontal reach 7-3, numbers that are nearly identical to No. 12 pick Alex Radojevic's, even though Brand is seven inches smaller.

Francis, too, comes with questions -- he hasn't played point guard regularly since junior college. Still, his open-court style figures to translate well to the NBA. See Allen Iverson. See Stephon Marbury. See Vince Carter.

"He always wanted to play the big games," Williams said. "When he walked onstage tonight, that was a great move, what he did with his arms. This is his town right now. He's done everything right off the court to get people to feel that way about him."

Francis occasionally gets carried away. He reportedly talked trash to the St. John's players during Maryland's loss in the Sweet 16, and his performance last night wasn't exactly Sportsman of the Year material.

But this is the NBA. Francis comes from a hardscrabble background, and is desperate to succeed. Not everyone can be Tim Duncan.

"I really didn't have a dream team," Francis said. "The team that I liked was the Bulls in '95 and '96. As soon as Michael Jordan retired, I stopped liking professional basketball."

Francis corrected himself.

"Watching professional basketball," he said, suddenly remembering that he's about to get very rich playing it.

Pub Date: 7/01/99

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