Francis makes visit to Grizzlies quietly

Ex-Terp, GM Jackson discuss issues in private

July 06, 1999|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

One day after the Chicago Bulls made Elton Brand the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, he met with the Chicago media and spoke happily of assisting in that team's rebuilding. That same day, No. 3 choice Baron Davis met with the media in Charlotte, N.C., expressing his joy over playing with the Hornets.

And what about former Maryland star Steve Francis, the No. 2 pick by the Vancouver Grizzlies who was last seen sulking on draft night? He had a secretive visit to Vancouver on Sunday, just days after his apparent displeasure over being drafted by the Grizzlies.

"[The private visit] was a mutual decision," said Vancouver general manager Stu Jackson, who met with Francis. "I think it was a visit where we got some issues of Steve's -- both personal and business -- and some organizational issues of the Grizzlies all on the table. From that viewpoint, it was productive."

Exactly what those details are, Jackson yesterday would not specify. Francis' agent did not return phone calls yesterday.

But it's a dilemma the Grizzlies have faced before, most recently last year with Mike Bibby, who was the No. 2 pick of the 1998 draft.

The problems the Grizzlies, one of two Canadian teams in the NBA, face with prospective draft picks: perception of the city, and potential of off-the-court earnings. When players eventually get to Vancouver they realize that it is one of the most beautiful cities in North America.

"I think [Steve] came in expecting a beautiful city," Jackson said. "And there was nothing here to dispel that."

The issue of endorsement potential is a tougher sell, although the Grizzlies can point to the recent popular sneaker company advertisement featuring Vancouver forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim, and Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves, another small-market team.

"I think those are issues that we've come to expect in running our business," Jackson said. "We faced similar issues with Mike Bibby, and now I think he's happy to be in Vancouver. A lot of players come in with great apprehension -- it's common. But when they get here, they have a very good stay."

Asked whether he got a sense that Francis was sold on Vancouver during his recent visit, Jackson replied, "I didn't get any indication either way."

While there was some draft day speculation that the Grizzlies -- with Bibby at the point guard position -- drafted Francis to trade him, Jackson said yesterday that was not the case.

"I can state, unequivocally, that we did not draft Steve Francis to trade him," Jackson said. "We are very excited about the prospect of having Steve as a part of our team and our organization, given all that he's accomplished.

"In our background check, he's proven himself to be a winner in every sense of the word. We're an organization that prides itself in the ability to find talented people like him. We are equally enthused of the promise of having one of the most exciting backcourts in the Western Conference."

The Philadelphia 76ers' Allen Iverson, the league's leading scorer, proved last season that a smallish shooting guard could thrive in the NBA. But Jackson said that Iverson's success was not used as a model in drafting Francis who, at 6 feet 3, would be one of the smaller shooting guards in the NBA.

"Philadelphia has been successful by making Allen Iverson its primary -- and sometimes only -- offensive option," Jackson said. "We look at Steve as someone that has the ability to play both guard positions. We look at him as someone that can score as well as distribute. We look at him fitting in as a piece with some other very talented offensive players."

Meanwhile, Maryland teammate Obinna Ekezie, Vancouver's second-round pick, will visit on Thursday and travel Friday to Los Angeles, where the Grizzlies will play in the Los Angeles summer league (Ekezie, recovering from a torn Achilles, will not participate in the league).

"Obinna, obviously, is excited about being a part of our franchise," Jackson said. "He's focused on getting himself rehabilitated."

As for Francis, the Grizzlies have no idea when he will return.

"At this time, we do not have any other visits planned and certainly we hope, in the near future, Steve revisits Vancouver," Jackson said.

"We realize that there are some special circumstances and issues here. While we would have liked to have had Steve here [meeting the media], we're respectful of the issues at hand."

Pub Date: 7/06/99

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