Francis, a three-time All-Star, returning to Rockets

Friday July 20, 2007 5:42 PM

Look Who's Back

Francis, a three-time All-Star, returning to Rockets

Damien Pierce Staff Writer

HOUSTON -- He's back.

Three years after leaving the franchise, Steve Francis reached an agreement with the Houston Rockets Friday to return to the city where he began his NBA career.

passed on offers from at least three other teams to become the latest addition to a roster that has been overhauled this summer to make the Rockets a contender in the Western Conference.

"I'm definitely ecstatic about the opportunity to come back to the place that I began this journey," Francis said. "And possibly, we can make it to the championship."

The three-time All-Star will be joining a talented backcourt that already includes Tracy McGrady and Mike James. He will also be partnering back up with his former teammate, Yao Ming.

With his quick first step and athleticism, the Rockets are hoping Francis can become another scoring threat on the perimeter that is capable of creating for himself off the dribble.

"We feel like he's a strong piece to get us deeper and farther in the playoffs," Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said. "We think he's going to be a great fit for the team."

Since leaving Houston in a trade after the 2003-04 season, Francis has split his time between the Orlando Magic and New York Knicks. He had a strong season with Orlando in 2004-05, but his minutes were reduced in New York. The Knicks traded Francis to Portland this summer, where the Trail Blazers ultimately released him.

Francis said he's welcome any role with the Rockets, whether he's asked to be a starter or a major contributor off the bench. He also isn't worried about there being enough shots between Houston's collection of star players.

"I'm at the stage of my career where winning is more important," Francis said. "There has been seasons where Tracy, Yao and myself could get 20 to 25 points per game. But I think, at this stage in people's careers, it's more important that everyone focuses on winning."

Francis, 30, spent the first five seasons of his career in Houston, joining Yao to lead the team to the playoffs in 2004. He had his best season with the Rockets in 2001-02 by averaging a career-high 21.6 points. He is averaging 18.4 points and 6.1 assists over his eight-year career.

Francis said his game has undergone some changes since leaving Houston.

"I'm not really looking to do the flashy stuff like I used to," Francis said. "That right there was just to get on Sportscenter. Now, I'm trying to get on Sportscenter winning games."

Francis is
just happy to be doing it again in the city where he became one of the league's marquee players.

"I live here, but I never thought this day would come where I would actually be back," Francis said.

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