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Stevie Franchise

We frequently speculate on potential roster moves here on the blog.  Sometimes it's just silly conjecture.  Sometimes there is solid reasoning behind the speculation.  Sometimes the potential opportunity comes and goes, without the club doing anything, regardless of how logical it may have seemed to me.  For instance, I don't really understand why the Clippers didn't at least pursue Eric Piatkowski (veteran locker room presence, long time Clipper, three point shooter, inexpensive) last off-season.  Would you rather have Aaron Williams or Eric Piatkowski for the veteran's exception?  For me, there's no question.

Back in April, we started speculating about Steve Francis - actually, I think it first came up even before that.  It's not rocket science - at the time, Knicks buyout rumors were rampant, the Clippers were desperate for a point guard, and Stevie's best pal Cuttino Mobley is a Clipper.  (Mobley and Francis were teammates for five seasons in Houston and another half season in Orlando.)  If Francis were indeed bought out, the Clippers seemingly would have an inside track to sign him, and clearly they have as much need as any other team.

Well, in this case, what was obvious to us is apparently just as obvious to MDsr and EB1.  In today's LA Times Jason Reid reports that signing Francis is the Clippers top off-season priority, for all the reasons listed above.  

The Clippers hope to sign Francis, 30, for a portion of the mid-level exception, reuniting him with his longtime friend, guard Cuttino Mobley.

Francis and Mobley played together in Houston and Orlando, and Mobley's presence might give the Clippers an edge in reaching a deal, sources said.

It will be interesting to see just how far Francis' stock has fallen.  The Clippers have only the mid-level to offer, and according to Reid they hope to use only 'a portion' of that.  We're talking about a guy who averaged 21 points and 7 assists two seasons ago and who has started in multiple all-star games, playing a position in exceedingly short supply, in a market with very high-demand.  With teams like the Lakers and the Eastern Conference Champion Cavs absolutely desperate for a point guard, and with Mo Williams the most realistic target in free agency (followed by a big drop off to Brevin Knight and Jason Hart), it's hard to imagine that Francis can't get at least the mid-level.  I mean, Jason Kapono signed for the mid-level for FSM's sake.

So how do we feel about this?  I've already gone on record as saying that I think Francis is worth the mid-level.  I mean, sure, I'd rather sign him for less than the mid-level, and I'd like to keep the years down.  But the Clippers are in a position where they're going to have to take a chance at the point guard.  Maybe we can sync his contract up with Mobley's and sign him for 3 years?  Here's what I said about Francis in a Point Guard post back in April:

Francis has  2 years and $33M left on his contract, and would not appear to fit into the Knicks [make that Blazers now] plans, so he's an obvious target for a buyout.  If it were to happen, a reunion of the three time all star with his backcourt mate of six seasons and best friend, Cuttino Mobley, would seem to be a possibility.  Where better than LA for Francis to try to rehab his reputation (at a considerable discount from his prior contract)?  Certainly he was never as good as 'All Star Game starter', but neither does it seem possible that he is really as bad as he has been the last couple seasons.  The Clippers are in a situation at the point guard position where they are going to have to take some risks, and if he becomes available, this risk would be worth the mid-level exception, in my opinion.

The cap is not a significant factor in this discussion.  It's always best to spend the money wisely, and especially to limit the years on these kinds of contracts.  But realistically, the Clippers are currently in the no-man's-land, above the cap but fairly safely below the luxury tax.  Assuming that they're not planning to let EB walk, they're not going to get below the cap in the foreseeable future.  On the other end, when a huge money extension for Livingston was on the radar, there might have been some luxury tax concerns.  But with Livingston's injury history depressing his value on the open market, if the Clippers decide to re-sign him they should be able to do so and remain well below the luxury tax threshold.  Even a Maggette extension, assuming we're not talking about crazy money, is feasible under the threshold, although signing Francis makes it more likely that Maggette will not be back in 08-09.  (Maggette and Mobley are the two contracts the Clippers would most like to get rid of from a strictly financial standpoint - if Mobley is the bait that lures Francis, Maggette becomes the odd man out.)

I did not see Francis play in New York.  Whether the vertiginous drop off in his productivity was due to his attitude, his knees or his coach is open to debate, as is the question of whether he can return to some semblance of his earlier form.  But the Clippers still need a point guard, and I for one am more than willing to roll the dice on Stevie Franchise as opposed to, say, Jason Hart.  He can play the point, he has good size, he can play off the ball some when Livingston returns - in short, he's a good fit from a basketball standpoint.  (Another interesting coincidence: if he came to the Clippers, it would unite the top two picks from the 1999 draft, and top two vote-getters for Rookie of the Year, in Brand and Francis.)

There's no doubt he'll be bought out by the Blazers:  they have about 20 guys on their roster, most of them very young and very talented.  Francis won't make it to the Portland airport.  The Lakers, Cavs and Heat, at least, will pursue him.  Can the Mobley connection get him to the Clippers?  We'll find out soon.