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Rockets' Willis Dealt To Toronto

On the second attempt, Kevin Willis became a member of the Toronto Raptors.

Willis was almost traded to Toronto last February and Tuesday the Houston Rockets finally made a deal, sending him to Canada in exchange for the 16th and 18th picks in the June 24 draft and forward Roy Rogers.

The Rockets already owned the No. 14 pick.

"This was a great opportunity for us because we had the ability to get two No. 1 picks and a former No. 1 pick in Roy Rogers," Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich said. "However, our appreciation for Kevin Willis made this decision very difficult because of everything he has done for the Houston Rockets and the entire city of Houston."

The Rockets also made it clear they won't be hearing any offers for Hakeem Olajuwon, who has been rumored on the trading block, or Charles Barkley, who is currently recovering from elbow surgery and still faces a hernia operation.

"Rudy and I have been here a long time with Hakeem and a lot of what has been accomplished has been because of Hakeem," Rockets vice president Carroll Dawson said. "We're going into the season building around him and we'll ride him as far as he'll go."

Asked if they'd make the same statement about Barkley, Tomjanovich gave an emphatic: "Yes."

Dawson added: "I don't think you can go out and find players like those two growing on vines."

Willis was one of the Rockets' steadiest performers last season. He started 74 games and averaged 16.1 points and 8.4 rebounds. He is scheduled to earn $2.1 million this season.

"Kevin addresses the most significant need that our team has and that is a tough, powerful veteran player in the front court," Toronto general manager Glen Grunwald said. "It is also critical that our team add some veteran influence and Kevin brings the experience to our roster that will help on the court in the lockerroom."

Willis was involved in a regular-season trade with the Raptors that would have sent guard Damon Stoudamire to the Rockets. That deal fell apart and Stoudamire eventually was traded to Portland.

"Kevin is flattered that Toronto would trade two first-round picks and a third player for him to play in Toronto," said Steve Woods, Willis' agent. "Last February, it was a bargaining manipulation whereas today it is based on Toronto wanting to bring in a seasoned pro and an outstanding basketball player."

The Rockets and Woods were angered that word about the first trade leaked out.

"What happened in February were three days of negotiations in the press between Houston and Toronto," Woods said. "That more or less served to increase the market value of Damon Stoudamire."

Toronto obtained the 18th pick from Portland in the deal. Th16th pick originally belonged to New York.

Rogers has played for Vancouver, Boston and Toronto in his two NBA seasons. The 6-foot-10, 235-pound Rogers has averaged 5.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots in 97 games.

The Rockets won consecutive NBA championships in 1994 and 1995 but they have failed to return to the title game since. Utah eliminated them from the first round this spring.

The average age of the Rockets' playoff roster this season was 32.6, leaving them with a goal of getting younger for next season.

Charles Jones, 41, and Clyde Drexler, 35, already have announced their retirement and despite his outstanding performance last season, trading Willis sent another 35-year old packing.

The Rockets still have Olajuwon and Charles Barkley, both 35.

Woods said Willis, a 13-year veteran, was disappointed at leaving the Rockets.

"The current NBA labor agreement has created an environment where many veteran players are used as salary cap pawns," Woods said. "It is a competition that is more economic than athletic.

"Toronto will be Kevin's fifth team in four years. He'll have played for, counting Toronto, seven owners, eight coaches and a total of 97 different players."

Rogers is well-traveled, too. He's played for three teams in two season.

He was Vancouver's No. 1 pick in 1996 and also has played for Boston Celtics and Raptors.

©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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