Cohen 8-Ball: Magic's Transformations Through the Years
February 3, 2013
Josh Cohen’s Analysis: As I wrote about recently, every NBA team cycles. In some eras, a team is in the preliminary stages of a rebuild (like the Magic are presently). In other periods, a team is a middle-of-the-pack playoff chaser. And in other phases, a team is positioned to challenge for a championship. CLICK NEXT to learn about the seven different eras that Orlando has gone through since its inauguration in 1989.
1989-1992: Cohen’s Analysis - After Pat Williams, now the team’s Senior Vice President, spearheaded the movement to deliver an NBA franchise to Orlando in the late 80’s, the Magic were off and running in 1989. Like all expansion teams, the Magic were comprised of a blend of young promising talent and established veterans. While structuring for the future, Orlando landed some gems in the draft, including Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott.
1992-1996: Cohen’s Analysis - Still the only franchise to win two consecutive NBA draft lotteries, the Magic rapidly evolved into a championship contender when they secured Shaquille O’Neal in 1992 and Penny Hardaway – via a trade with the Warriors involving Chris Webber – in 1993. Along with the groomed talent from the foundational years, like Anderson and Scott, and the addition of a championship-proven veteran in Horace Grant, Orlando earned a trip to the NBA Finals in 1995 and returned to the conference finals the subsequent season.
1996-1999: Cohen’s Analysis - After Shaq’s decision to bolt Orlando for Hollywood in 1996, the Magic had no choice but to try and progress without him. Chuck Daly replaced Brian Hill in 1997 as head coach, but the more intriguing storyline involved Penny and his sudden decline as a result of a devastating knee injury. Despite this setback, Orlando managed to advance to the playoffs in two of the three seasons between O’Neal’s departure and Hardaway's preference to be traded.
1999-2000: Cohen’s Analysis - It was supposed to be a more conventional renovation to start the century after sending Penny to Phoenix and Anderson to Sacramento. However, with an assemblage of determined and courageous, yet concealed talent and a rising coach, Doc Rivers, the Magic enjoyed an extraordinary season in 1999-00. Nicknamed “Heart & Hustle” for their relentless effort, the Magic stunned the masses by nearly qualifying for the postseason.
2000-2004: Cohen’s Analysis - While “Heart & Hustle” was enchanting, it was obvious that in order for the Magic to evolve into a title contender, they needed to utilize the millions in salary cap space they had. Exactly 10 years before the Heat formed a star-studded trio – LeBron, Wade, Bosh – it was Orlando that nearly accomplished the same thing. After acquiring Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill in two separate sign-and-trades, the Magic nearly sequestered Tim Duncan away from the Spurs. While T-Mac transformed into the league’s best scorer, ruinous injuries denied Hill from sustaining the reputation he had created during his All-Star years in Detroit.
2004-2012: Cohen’s Analysis - Once it was realized that Hill would never get back to full strength and that McGrady’s personality was perhaps too detrimental to the team’s growth, the Magic turned the ship over to an 18-year-old phenom in 2004. Choosing the relatively veiled Dwight Howard instead of the renowned Emeka Okafor proved to be the most brilliant draft decision arguably in NBA history. Though the supporting cast changed from year-to-year, Howard and Jameer Nelson were the leaders of a team that advanced to the NBA Finals in 2009 and a return to the conference finals in 2010.
2012-Present: Cohen’s Analysis - The back-and-forth ambiguity with Howard and his indecision eventually forced the Magic to trade him away in 2012. With a new general manager, Rob Hennigan, and head coach, Jacque Vaughn, Orlando is presently in the infantile stages of a renovation. With young talent currently developing, plenty of salary cap space ahead and high draft picks likely for the next couple of years, it’s probable that this era will not be a long-lasting one.