ORLANDO - With the Magic pinning their hopes on a prep phenom rather than a polished collegian, it's clearer than ever All-Star Tracy McGrady is gone. Orlando's disgruntled superstar has said he's unwilling to wait out another rebuilding project, and the drafting of Dwight Howard is a commitment to the future.
"I can't conceive of any scenario with Tracy, whether he was staying or not staying, that would've made this different," General Manager John Weisbrod said. "This is who we were going to pick, regardless of any Tracy factor."
Even more telling is that Weisbrod's first post-draft call was not to McGrady but to Steve Francis. The Houston guard has dropped his objections about being traded to Orlando, possibly paving McGrady's way to the Rockets.
When news of a prospective deal broke this week, Francis was adamant about not wanting to leave Houston, and Weisbrod put talks off until after the draft.
But Francis' agent, Jeff Fried, told the Magic there were no objections about coming to Orlando, and Weisbrod's call to Francis smoothed matters even more.
"I couldn't say we're really closer to anything, but this was a good first step," Weisbrod said early Friday.
Said Fried: "Steve was very impressed with the way John has a vision for the team, and the way he wants to win. It seems they really hit it off."
Although Weisbrod offered no specifics, the deal is believed to be McGrady, Juwan Howard and Tyronn Lue for Francis, Cuttino Mobley and Kelvin Cato.
Weisbrod said his conversation with Francis was productive, with each man expressing respect for the other's work. Even Francis' scuffle with Phoenix's Amare Stoudemire in March drew praise.
"I think he's stubborn, I think he's competitive and I think he likes to win," Weisbrod said.
Magic officials said trade negotiations will break for the weekend.
As for the team's top pick, McGrady's history can provide the Magic with a reference point on young players, having made the prodigy-to-pros leap. Howard, at 6-foot-9, 240 pounds, has impressive physical skills, but will he try to get by on those alone?
"They picked the best person for the job," a confident Howard said during his post-draft visit to Orlando. Moments earlier he was smiling through braces while holding up a jersey bearing No. 12.
By choosing potential over experience, Weisbrod is taking a risk in trying to rebuild after last season's 21-61 disaster. He acknowledges Connecticut All-America Emeka Okafor will give more help next year to the Charlotte Bobcats, who picked second, than Howard will help the Magic. But 2004-05 isn't the point.
"There was a national consensus, "The Magic are so bad, they have to take the guy who's more proven, established and NBA ready,' " Weisbrod said. "I was aware of that, but I really didn't let myself fall into that thinking.
"When you come into a draft you're addressing the needs of your team, but when you have the No. 1 pick your responsibility is to pick the best player."
The Magic traded for another first-round pick Thursday, acquiring Saint Joseph's point guard Jameer Nelson from Denver. Nelson, selected 20th, played four seasons with the Hawks, earning consensus national player of the year honors as a senior.
Howard, however, has many more questions to answer.
"Character has always been in me," he said. "The way I am, it's always been like that. I'm not going to change because I've got the money and I'm No. 1."
As a support system, Howard plans to live with Kevin Samples, his cousin and business manager, "so I can get accustomed to living by myself at a young age."