Posted by Kevin Arnovitz
Steve Francis to the Grizzlies. There's some poetic symmetry to it, isn't there? For a refresher on why this trade closes a circle, check out this Washington Post column by Michael Wilbon published just hours after the 1999 NBA Draft.
Wilbon spends most of his column inches evaluating the hometown Wizards' selection of a spindly kid from UConn named Richard Hamilton. But there are some great little morsels in here, including "tears of joy" from a young Ron Artest:
Teams have been charting upsides and risk, begging kids who aren't even adults to come and workout, come and take a physical. Odom didn't want to leave college after one year, which is the right instinct. And Steve Francis, who was obviously disappointed in not being selected first, showed poor judgment by sulking after being drafted by Vancouver. Son, you've overcome too much to whine about getting $3 million a year to live in one of the most beautiful cities in North America. Get a clue...
I bet the Vancouver Grizzlies thought the same thing when they took Francis with the second pick. What they got was a one-year wonder who looked very selfish and completely ungrateful from the moment David Stern announced his name. "Hopefully, when I wake up tomorrow," he said, "I'll be happy." Francis wanted to go No. 1, which is why he talked about the "risk" the Bulls took in selecting Elton Brand. Francis's coach at Maryland, Gary Williams, provided some much needed perspective, saying, "It's great he's the second pick in the draft. . . . you don't get to pick your team." Maybe it's just me, but it's a risk taking a guy who hasn't done anything anywhere for longer than one year. Last I checked, Brand took his team further in the NCAA tournament than Francis took his. The Grizzles, or whichever team winds up with Francis, better know it won't be investing in a rookie with any humility.
Luckily, there was a wonderful juxtaposition that took place about an hour after Francis slumped and pouted his way to the lectern, St. John's forward Ron Artest reacted to being selected by the Chicago Bulls by crying. Bawled right out in the open, tears streaming down his face. "Tears of joy," he said. "All joy."
Like any kid about to become an instant millionaire (even more so for a kid from New York), Artest had everybody in the world sucking up to him, tugging at him, phoning constantly. In recent days though, Artest didn't return any of those calls. "To all the people I didn't speak to, I was too busy taking care of business," he said. "I'm really grateful."
The Bulls might have been the big winners because they got Brand and Artest, to team with Toni Kukoc and Brent Barry, with tons of money to spend in free agency.
The rest is history: The front line of Elton Brand, Ron Artest, and Brad Miller led the 2003-04 Chicago Bulls to within one game of an NBA title.