Thu, Jul 01, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Rockets secure Tracy McGrady, Juwan Howard

AP , HOUSTON, TEXAS

Tracy McGrady is leaving his hometown team for Houston in a blockbuster trade that sends Steve Francis to the Orlando Magic and gives the Rockets one of the NBA's most intriguing duos.

The deal, which had been in the works for nearly two weeks, also sent forward Juwan Howard and guards Tyronn Lue and Reece Gaines to the Rockets. The Magic will acquire guard Cuttino Mobley and forward Kelvin Cato.

"I just knew it was going to take time," McGrady told ESPN Tuesday night. "I'm happy and it's time to move on."

McGrady, a two-time NBA scoring champion, now joins 2.23m Yao Ming to form a combination that potentially could be as dominant as the Los Angeles Lakers' three-time title twosome of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant.

The trade was finalized after Francis' meeting with Magic general manager John Weisbrod and other team officials in Orlando on Tuesday.

"I think he's very excited about this new beginning. I think he's going to a city that wants to have a sizzling new beginning," Francis' agent, Jeff Fried told AP early Wednesday.

"I sure hope so," McGrady said in the ESPN interview. "I can't predict the future, but it definitely would be nice. The ultimate goal is to win a championship for the Houston Rockets."

And with the Lakers splintering apart since coming up short in the NBA Finals, Houston immediately looks like a serious championship contender in the Western Conference next season.

McGrady signed with the Magic in 2000, thinking he and Grant Hill could push an up-and-coming squad over the top. But Hill's bad left ankle limited him to 37 games in four seasons, and McGrady's load grew heavier with each passing year.

Tired of carrying a mediocre franchise, McGrady vowed to exercise the opt-out clause in his contract that was to go into effect at the end of next season. But Orlando did not want him to leave without the team receiving compensation -- like O'Neal did eight years ago.

McGrady, 25, becomes the fourth defending scoring champion in NBA history to be dealt away, and the first since the Buffalo Braves sent Bob McAdoo to the New York Knicks in 1976.

Francis, a three-time All-Star, averaged 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 6.2 assists last season to join Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson and Hill as the only players in league history to average at least 15 points, five rebounds and five assists in each of their first five years.

Francis, Mobley and Yao led the Rockets to the playoffs last season for the first time in five years. Houston lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round.

But Francis, who flourished in an up-tempo offense for the previous four years, was put on the summer trading block after posting the worst offensive numbers of his career in new coach Jeff Van Gundy's slower-paced scheme.

Mobley, one of Francis' best friends, comes to Orlando after averaging 17.1 points and four rebounds a game in six seasons with the Rockets. A second-round pick by Houston in 1998, Mobley has become one of the league's most underrated players.

Cato, a power forward, averaged 6.2 points and 6.2 rebounds in five years with the Rockets.

Howard, a 10-year veteran, has averaged 17.8 points and 7.4 rebounds with Washington, Dallas, Denver and Orlando. Last season, he was second on the Magic in scoring (17 points per game) and first in rebounding (7).

Lue averaged career highs of 10.5 points and 4.2 assists with Orlando last season.

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