Grizzlies also in dark on Francis

Latest speculation is deal with Rockets

August 26, 1999|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

As Vancouver Grizzlies general manager Stu Jackson walked to lunch yesterday, he was confronted by a group of construction workers outside the restaurant he was headed to in this British Columbia city.

The topic of discussion: former Maryland star Steve Francis, who has called a basketball-related news conference for tomorrow in Takoma Park amid speculation that he might soon be traded -- perhaps to the Detroit Pistons or, as reported last night by KRIV-TV in Houston, to the Rockets in a nine-player deal.

"The guy said to me, `Stu, do you know what's going to go on in the Friday press conference?' " Jackson recalled. "I said no, and he said, `Let me tell you something -- we're sick of him.' "

If Jackson is sick of Francis, he's not saying, instead choosing his words carefully when asked about the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft.

But the general manager is obviously frustrated over Francis, who at first seemed unhappy about being drafted by Vancouver, later appeared at a news conference and made up with the city and the organization, and now is apparently again apprehensive about becoming a member of the Grizzlies.

Francis is not discussing the topic of the news conference, although a source close to him said that, at the moment, the subject will be his dissatisfaction with playing in Vancouver and playing shooting guard.

Chuck Walsh, who works in the University of Maryland sports information office, told Fox- last night that he had just spoken to Francis and he suspects the news conference is to announce a shoe deal.

By tomorrow, Jackson will have a clearer picture about what's going on with his team's top pick.

Jackson had what he described as "a heated conversation" with an agent for Francis on Monday, but has not spoken with the player or his representatives since the release Tuesday of the advisory announcing the news conference.

"It's a challenge," Jackson said about the entire episode. "It's been an experience for all of us. We have done everything we possibly can. The entire organization has bent over backward. All we're trying to do is hand over $9 million and make him a well-known ballplayer."

Jackson refused to speculate on what Francis wants to get off his chest, although he did admit that talks between the two sides have not been entirely smooth.

"What they have indicated to me is that Steve has some personal issues as well as some business issues being part of our club," Jackson said. "We've made some good-faith attempts to address those issues."

While Francis said during his July news conference in Vancouver that his draft-night actions were attributed to the thought of being far from his family, a bigger issue appears to be marketing opportunities for Francis while playing in a Canadian city.

Asked whether Francis has permanently hurt his reputation by the ordeal, Jackson said: "He's been back and forth, but I can't begin to quantify to what degree he has hurt his reputation."

There has been talk of a trade with Detroit in which Francis would go to the Pistons for Jerry Stackhouse and Loy Vaught. KRIV-TV in Houston didn't mention any names in its report of a trade with the Rockets. Jackson would not talk specifically about any proposed deal.

"I've had many, many conversations since the end of the season with almost every team in the NBA regarding potential trades regarding a number of our players, including Steve Francis," Jackson said.

"Our objective is to improve our ballclub for the upcoming season. In doing that, we've had a variety of different [trade] discussions, and that has included Steve."

That seems a far cry from the Jackson who, on draft night -- and for a month afterward -- said he had no intention of trading Francis. But even when Francis was in Vancouver saying all the right things, Jackson said he had his concerns.

"During that time when everybody was engulfed with the excitement of him being here, at that time I said it was very much a work in progress," Jackson said. "A series of things have happened that has moved Steve away and back again in terms of being resigned to playing in Vancouver.

"We've been in discussions with Steve through the last couple of months, sometimes three or four times a day. We were never given an ultimatum, nor will we respond to an ultimatum."

Pub Date: 8/26/99

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