<
>

Apologetic Francis rejoins Magic

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Steve Francis apologized to teammates,
coaches and fans Tuesday as he rejoined the Orlando Magic following
his two-game suspension for refusing to re-enter a blowout game
late in the fourth quarter.

Francis said all the right things in his return.
He called his decision "not a smart or wise one," said he
hoped to remain with the club after the Feb. 23 trading deadline
and added that he would be willing to "sacrifice" his starting
role to benefit the team.
Francis was suspended indefinitely last Thursday, a day after he
opposed coach Brian Hill's request to replace Hedo Turkoglu with
3:22 remaining and the Magic trailing 103-87 at Seattle.
The star point guard missed two games -- losses at Portland and
Sacramento -- then was reinstated Monday following a meeting with
team officials.
"For me not to do that was completely wrong," Francis said in
confirming the reason for his suspension. "It was in the heat of
the moment, and one of the decisions that I made was really, really
not a smart or wise one at the time. I apologize to the fans, to my
teammates, the coaches."
Magic assistant general manager Otis Smith called the meeting
with Francis productive and said he hoped to see changes in his
attitude and play.
"I don't look at Steve as being any trouble," Smith said.
"We're just trying to get Steve Francis back. As I told him, I
haven't really seen Steve Francis in three weeks. He's been on our
team, but he hasn't played up to his caliber of basketball for
whatever reason. We're just trying to get to the bottom of that and
get him back to playing basketball the way he's capable of
playing."
"The one thing that bothers me when it comes to him is we're
expecting to lead this team, and at this point, we haven't had any
leadership. We're looking forward to that stepping up, too."
Francis was scoring a team-high 18 points a game at the end of
2005, but he has slumped significantly since the new year. He has
averaged 11.5 points on 37.5 percent shooting in six games in
January and has 25 assists and 30 turnovers.
"People go through those things in regular life and
basketball," Francis said. "I'm not the first person who's had a
span of games where they didn't play particularly well. ... It's
just my turn to go through it. It's the first time in my seven-year
career that I played probably four or five games that weren't
really, really good consistently."
Francis led the team in scoring four consecutive games between
Dec. 19 and Dec. 26, but he hasn't been the same since.
Backup point guard Jameer Nelson, meanwhile, has started to
emerge. The second-year player from Saint Joseph's has led the team
in scoring in three of the last four games and gives the coaching
staff a difficult decision to make with Francis' return.
Nelson is averaging 22.8 points on 53.5 percent shooting in
eight games in January and has 58 assists and 27 turnovers.
Hill refused Tuesday to disclose his starting lineup for
Wednesday's home game against Washington.
"Whatever the decision is, I'm willing to sacrifice and live
with the decision," Francis said.
Francis also said he had received assurances that he would not
be traded. Of course, it might be difficult for the Magic to deal
Francis given his current contract, which guarantees him $48
million over the next three years.
"We're moving forward with him as our point guard," Smith
said. "We traded for him to be our point guard, to be our leader
and that really hasn't changed. We really haven't reached that
point yet to where trading Steve Francis."