Steve Francis, revered in China since his days in Houston with Yao Ming, arrived in Beijing early in the morning on December 14th to a hero’s welcome; a homecoming of sorts for one of China’s favorite players of all time.
13 days later, Fu Laoda’s happy homecoming has turned into a messy divorce.
According to Sina Sports, the Beijing Shougang Ducks have decided to cut Francis from their roster, just six games after the three-time NBA All-Star joined up with the franchise. Although the team has yet to formally announce the news, Francis’ agent has confirmed to the Chinese news outlet that the nine-year NBA veteran will be released by the organization shortly and will return to the United States within the next couple of days.
Since arriving with the team less than two weeks ago, Francis has played a total of 14 minutes over four games, averaging 0.5 points 0.7 rebounds.
Though Sina is reporting that the team is cutting Francis, a source speaking to NiuBBall.com indicated that the break-up was mutual and that both sides were equally ready to move on. Francis, who was brought in on a large contract after Beijing head coach, Min Lulei, flew out to the U.S. to watch him work out in November, became quickly frustrated with Min over his lack of minutes and felt as if the team was merely using him to sell tickets and merchandise. Francis had not played more than five minutes in a single game, and had received his second straight DNP-CD tonight against Jiangsu after not getting any action on Friday against Bayi.
“He didn’t fly all the way out to China to just sit on the bench,” the source said.
Since he’s been in uniform, attendance figures for both Beijing home and away games have risen dramatically, as fans have been eager to catch a glimpse of one of their all-time favorite NBA stars.
The Ducks, however, have also experienced their share of perceived frustrations over the last two weeks, most of which have revolved around Francis’ poor conditioning and behavior towards his coaches.
When Francis first arrived, Min indicated that the player would not be seeing major minutes during games before his conditioning improved to an acceptable level after almost three years away from the game. Though Min came away impressed enough to sign him to a contract after he flew out to the States to see Francis practice, team management had major concerns about his ability to handle a full season of games even after the workout and up until he came to China. After Francis joined with the team in Beijing and began practicing, it became apparent to team management that Francis’ body was too out of shape and his skills too eroded, and that it was unrealistic for them to heavily invest in a player that could not be counted on serious on-court contributions this season.
In addition to Francis’ unacceptable physical condition, Beijing also grew weary of his attitude towards practicing. The final straw appears to have been drawn yesterday on Christmas when Francis, against the wishes of coaches, skipped a morning practice to spend the holiday with his family. The vast majority of Chinese do not celebrate Christmas, and since the Chinese government does not legally recognize the day as a holiday, workers and students are not given a day off.
“Yesterday, the whole team practiced, but only [Francis] went to go spend Christmas with his family,” Coach Min said to reporters after tonight’s 104-89 win against Jiangsu, visibly angry. “This afternoon I was still speaking with him, I wanted to find him a conditioning coach to work him out for a bit. But he said to me that he needs to play in games, not practice…”
After not playing on Friday in Beijing’s win against Bayi, Francis received his second straight DNP-CD tonight. Apparently at his wits end over not playing, Francis left the bench and halftime and did not return for the second half.
“I don’t know if other coaches would give him the minutes he wants, but the whole team has been working hard in practice. Actually, I had planned to let him play today but the first quarter we got down by too much.”
When asked by a reporter if Francis and the team were close to going their separate ways, Min nodded his head sligthly and answered, “I waited another day or two to talk to you guys [the media] again. Right now I don’t know how Francis sees it all… Today we got a big win, but I’m in a very bad mood.”
No time was given by the Sina report as to when the team will officially break the news.
Francis’ short stay in the country’s capital can be best described as adventurous. His debut came unexpectedly when Min substituted a clearly unprepared Francis onto the court for the final 17 seconds of Beijing’s home victory against Qingdao on December 15th after the coach publicly stated on multiple occasions that he would wait to put Francis into the lineup until he had practiced a few times with the team and acclimated himself to the 13 hour New York-Beijing time difference. With his shoes unlaced and an ice-pack taped over his socks, Francis dribbled out the clock to deafening cheers by the supportive Beijing home crowd.
In the team’s next game against Shandong on the 17th, Francis played his first meaningful period of basketball, tallying a total of four minutes, all of which came during the second quarter. In a chaotic sequence of events, Francis lost his balance on several occasions, slipping and falling on the floor as he ran for loose balls on his way to one rebound, two turnovers and two fouls.
In his third game on the 19th against Guangdong, Francis scored his first and only basket of his China career in a little over five minutes, but his play on the court was overshadowed by a late game incident that happened off the court. Coming down to the wire in a close game away against three-time defending champs, Guangdong, Beijing’s star import, Randolph Morris, fouled out on a questionable loose ball foul battling for a rebound under the boards. Morris, displeased with the call, walked back to the bench incredulously as the game’s television camera focused in on him. Unknowingly on camera, Francis, in the background and on the bench, extended a middle finger over his head to the ref protesting the call. Though he went unpunished by in-game officials, he received a warning by the league for his “uncivilized behavior”, and the team was ordered to privately “criticize and educate” the player to prevent any similar acts from occurring in the future, which is a common and accepted form of punishment within the country.
Originally signed on for a one-year deal with an option for a second, Francis and Beijing have already negotiated a release sum, according to the source.
With the win over Jiangsu, Beijing has now won its last six games and stands in third place at 6-1. At present, it is unclear who the Ducks will target to replace Francis on their import roster.