I have mentioned it enough times to once again delve into what I call the Horace Grant Theory.
Let us go back to 1994. The young Magic, led by Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway, crashed the playoff party for the first time in franchise history. Orlando, after tying Indiana for the final spot in the postseason and sitting out because of a tiebreaker, earned the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and home court advantage against the seasoned Pacers.
Reggie Miller, Rick Smits and Byron Scott quickly dispatched the Magic in three games, ending the dream run. That first game, Scott played a particularly key role. Scott hit a game-winning jumper in Game One with two seconds left to set the tone for the Magic and led to a relatively easy playoff series win. He averaged 10.4 points per game mostly coming off the bench in his first season after leaving the Lakers. Indiana improved by six games and pushed the Knicks in the first of the Winning Time series in the second round.
What the Magic saw in that series with the Pacers was a look into a team that had some playoff experience. They had gritty rebounders in Dale Davis and Antonio Davis. And they had veteran leadership, someone who had won a title and could push good players to be great and great players to be legendary.
Sometimes you need your star to make a statement and get in the ear of teammates. And sometimes you need someone who has been to the top of the mountain to push his teammates — including the star — to a championship.
Scott could do that for Indiana in setting the tone for the team’s playoff run with that game-winning basket. Orlando needed their champion to show them the way.
In September of 1994, Orlando added Horace Grant, a veteran of three championships with Chicago.
He was viewed as the piece the team needed to help the young squad mature. Nobody saw the team doing it so fast. As Tim Povtak of the Orlando Sentinel wrote at the time, Grant was the emotional lift the team needed during a tough series against the Bulls, a series they would not win facing a similar team the next year. In reading that recap of the Magic’s series-clinching win, you could sens the reverence Shaquille O’Neal had for Grant’s contribution to that team.
“He was our MVP in this series,” O’Neal said. “This win was for Horace. He was the key to this team. He was hitting shots, getting rebounds, playing with a broken finger. He was big throughout this series. He deserves this.
“He doesn’t have a shoe contract, or a rap album, but he’s the man. He proved through this series how valuable he is to us.”
As I noted in naming him the top power forward in team history, Grant’s statistics do not pop off the page. He was good, not great. But his impact was seen more off the court.
If ever Orlando needed a player with his professionalism and his experience, it would be now. The Magic seem to be a team in a bit of disarray. Dwight Howard is a constant, but aside from him the Magic really don’t know what they will get from each player on a night-by-night basis. And that is not necessarily on a scoring basis. That is more from an effort, defensive effort especially, standpoint.
Dwight Howard has been close to the top of the mountain of winning a championship, but you cannot replace experience. And sometimes Howard needs some help getting guys in line. It was not long after the season that Dwight Howard came out and questioned his team’s effort and commitment and points of the season. At best, it was inconsistent.
There is a lot of work for Otis Smith to do. He has a lot of needs he has to address — from getting a backup center to a more consistent scorer to maybe finding a new shooting guard.
One thing I feel Smith should keep in mind is bringing in someone with championship experience. Orlando has not really had that since Grant left. Orlando needs a veteran who can talk to the players from experience what it will take to win a championship. Frankly, no one on the roster really has that experience. And it is not just championship experience, but sustained success. That is really what Grant brought to the team in 1995. And it put them over the top.
This is a very difficult player to find for sure. Glen Davis and Tayshaun Prince are the names in the 2011 free agent class that catch my eye. Of course, there is no guarantee the Magic will be able to free up the money to sign them — if they are indeed targets.
With the team seemingly handicapped and unable to make any major moves, bringing in someone who can help glue the locker room together and push them to a higher level of play could be a way to make this Magic team work.
Where is this generation’s Horace Grant? Smith better look into finding him or else the Magic might continue to languish in mediocrity and disappointment.
Photos via DayLife.com.