A couple of commenters have remarked on the absence of a Steve Francis update for the last several days. Well, here's my take, for what it's worth, although little has changed since my last Franchise-y post.
Francis and Brevin Knight remain the less-than-truly-awful free agent point guards available (Jannero Pargo, anyone?) Francis cleared waivers following his Portland buyout last night, and is therefore an unrestricted free agent now, free to sign wherever he likes. The list of rumored suitors remains the same: Clippers, Heat, Mavs and Rockets, and my personal handicapping remains the same - that is Mavs and Rockets are not really options because Stevie will want playing time above all else.
The last few days have been mostly about Miami. After they lost out on Mo Williams, as expected they began to focus on Francis, despite earlier reports that they weren't interested and Francis has been down to South Beach to hit the clubs with Pat Riley and Shaq (OK, maybe it was just agent Jeff Fried and Riley meeting at the Arena). Nothing coming out of Florida sounds definitive, but at the same time, there is literally NOTHING coming out of LA, which is not a good sign.
Today's Miami Herald reports that, as suspected, playing time will be the overarching concern, more so than money. None of these four teams has more than their mid-level exception to spend, and while it won't take the entire MLE to sign him, rest assured that Miami's interest has driven the price above the 2 years, $1M and $5M Jason Quick floated last week. And make no mistake, it'll come down to the Clippers or the Heat.
So, if you're Stevie Franchise, how do you decide between these two destinations? Assuming the money will be approximately the same, there are three factors to consider:
- Playing time - the situation in each town is similar. The team is concerned that the erstwhile starter is too injury-prone / old to play big minutes. Francis is being asked to step in and play 20-25 minutes, leaving the rest for Jason Williams or Sam Cassell. That leaves the question - what happens if the other guy stays healthy? Jason Williams is only 31 - about a year older than Francis. Are the Heat going to give Francis the Lion's Share of the minutes over a healthy Williams? On the other hand, though Cassell is clearly going to have his minutes limited this season, if Shaun Livingston returns to full health, Francis is looking at a backup role in his future in LA. Add in Dwyane Wade's shoulder injury which could keep him out early in the season and the basic absence of depth in Miami, and I have to give the PT edge to Miami - but this one is very close.
- Winning - The Heat have Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade. The Heat won the tile two seasons ago. The Heat play in the East, and therefore stand a pretty good chance of returning to the NBA Finals with ClipperSteve playing the point, as long as Wade and Shaq are in top form. Honestly, I can make an argument that the Clippers are the better team. But they play in the West, and are far from guaranteed a playoff spot, let alone a deep run. If you want to play in May and June, you sign in the East. Advantage Miami.
- Interpersonal - Steve Francis' best friend Cuttino Mobley plays for the Clippers, as does fellow Houston resident and Francis friend Sam Cassell. Although Francis is also reportedly close to Shaq, there's no question that the edge here goes to the Clippers, and in the end this may be the trump card in getting him to LA.
I'm actually pretty lukewarm on the whole thing. The Clippers have major issues at the point, to be sure. But it's far from certain that Steve Francis is the answer. The worst thing would be to overpay for a temporary solution - so when the price tag was looking like 2/$6M, Francis was great. More money, or worse still, more years, would considerably dampen my enthusiasm for this 'Franchise' player.
All indications are that we won't have to wait much longer for an answer. According to the Miami Herald, a deal could come "as soon as tonight."