- Chris Broussard, NBA analyst
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Steve Francis is going home.
After three years of struggles in Orlando and New York, the former All-Star guard will return to the place of his greatest glory, the Houston Rockets.
Francis was in Houston on Thursday to sign a two-year contract worth roughly $6 million with the Rockets. The club will announce the signing at a newsconference on Friday.
"It's great opportunity, I'm definitely excited," Francis told Houston's Fox 26 Sports. "This is a pretty astonishing moment right now. I am still caught up in the hype."
The 30-year-old Francis was recently bought out of the remaining two years, $34 million of his previous contract by the Portland Trail Blazers. He received nearly $31 million in the deal.
With money being no factor, Francis chose the Rockets over Miami, Dallas and the Clippers. The Heat are believed to have offered him more money.
According to a person close to Francis, he chose Houston largely because of his familiarity with the organization and the city. He has kept a home there since joining the club in 1999, and it was the site of his best years in the NBA.
As a high-flying point guard for the Rockets, Francis made three All-Star games and was regarded as one of the top players in the league. Francis' career began to decline when he clashed with coach Jeff Van Gundy, who had replaced Francis favorite Rudy Tomjanovich, in 2003.
Though Van Gundy helped Francis get to the playoffs for the first and only time in his career, his deliberate style of offense rubbed Francis the wrong way, and his scoring average dropped from 21 points per game to 16.6.
Francis was traded to Orlando for Tracy McGrady the following year. But while McGrady was outstanding in Houston, Francis failed to regain his form and was eventually dealt to New York to team with Stephon Marbury in the backcourt.
That experiment failed as well, as Francis ended up in a reserve role behind Jamal Crawford while struggling with minor knee injuries. Finally, the Knicks traded Francis to Portland in a draft-night trade that sent Zach Randolph to New York.
The Blazers had agreed to buy out Francis as a condition of the trade.
Francis returns to Houston in a much different role. The top option during his five-year stint with the club, he will be no more than the third option behind McGrady and Yao Ming. Francis spoke with both players as well as new Rockets coach Rick Adelman before deciding to accept Houston's offer.
Chris Broussard covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine.
7dEthan Sherwood Strauss