As fans, we usually look at the draft from the perspective of our team – we get our guy, or someone takes him before our team has the chance. In the case of a few franchises, we have the chance but just blow the pick year after year. For players, getting drafted is success in itself, but where they get drafted radically influences their career.
If you’re Tim Duncan and the team with the highest odds gets the no.1 pick, you play in Boston for Rick Pitino. Duncan is a high character player, so it’s not like his career wouldn’t be good, but the fact the Spurs landed the no.1 pick, and he got to learn from Robinson and coach Pop made all the difference in the world. In the past few years, we’ve seen agents doing everything they can to prevent specific teams from drafting their players. Usually, Sacramento and Knicks were mentioned in that regard, and who could blame them. Players didn’t want to go to dysfunctional organizations that fail over and over again.
But one of the biggest disappointments in Draft history was that of Steve Francis in 1999. Francis, how had a problematic life, announced he would enter the draft and went straight to the top of all draft boards. His main competitor for the no.1 pick was Elton Brand, and they both wanted to be no.1. Why? Vancouver was picking at no.2.
If you think Toronto has problems getting free agents and keeping players around, Google the Vancouver Grizzlies. A nine-hour flight from the east coast, only a few players, didn’t try to get out of there at any cost. As a result, they struggled on the court and off the court.
The draft day had special meaning to Francis. It was happening in his hometown of Washington, and he had over 300 people in the building. Francis, who spent some of his life homeless and had to work as a “phone boy” to survive, was going to become an NBA player. The stage was set for the moment in which his life will finally get some stability, and he could take care of everyone he cares about.
But, when David Stern said that the Chicago Bulls select Elton Brand, Francis knew he is probably going to Vancouver. His agent and lawyer did everything they could to let the Grizzlies know he doesn’t want to play there, but the chance was still there. What happened next almost made him cry.
Imagine surviving everything Francis did, losing his mother, living on the street, and working for criminals to survive. You’d think he’d be ecstatic no matter what team picked him. Being close to family was so important to him that Francis made it clear – he is not playing in Vancouver. He asked for a trade.
His agents got to work and, after a while, managed to find a trade for a disgruntled rookie many saw as spoiled. How difficult was it? It is the third-largest, most complicated trade in NBA history. Houston traded Michael Dickerson, Othella Harrington, Brent Price, Antoine Carr, and a future first-round draft pick to Vancouver as part of a three-way deal in which the Rockets received draft rights to Steve Francis and Tony Massenburg from Grizzlies and Don MacLean and future first-round draft choice from Orlando, and the Magic received Michael Smith, Rodrick Rhodes, Lee Mayberry and Makhtar Ndiaye from Grizzlies.
After a lot of heartache and drama, Francis was going to Houston.