Magic Masters is Orlando Magic Daily’s attempt to recognize the best in Magic history. In this edition, we are trying to rank the best teams in Magic history. To see the full tournament bracket, visit the introduction page. Today, we continue the second round:
In year five, the Magic arrived. The growth that came with Shaquille O’Neal’s first two seasons finally got over the top with Anfernee Hardaway’s arrival. The Magic knew they had something special brewing after reaching the Playoffs for the first time.
Yes, it ended in a sweep at the Pacers’ hands. But that is hardly what we remember from 1994.
OK, maybe it is what we remember because the next year saw that team go to the Finals and then saw the Finals team break up with Shaquille O’Neal’s departure. But this was a more innocent time when everything in the world is new to the franchise.
This was a great ride for a young franchise. It had its second superstar and future point guard after a lucky bounce of some ping pong balls and a shrewd trade on draft night.
This was Orlando’s first 50-win season and first foray into the postseason. In 1993, the team finished .500. Now the Magic were a winning team with big goals.
1994 is officially when the expansion honeymoon ended. The Magic were ready to win and deliver somthing more than just basketball to their fans.
This squad had Shaquille O’Neal at perhaps his best — he averaged 29.3 points per game and 13.2 rebounds per game, one of the best individual years in team history. This team also featured a young Penny Hardaway pushing the veteran Scott Skiles for playing time at point guard. The now-veteran and developing Nick Anderson next to him in the backcourt, adding nearly 16 points per game.
This was a fun team with lots of dynamic players and Magic legends who long-time Magic fans still talk reverentially about. This was the culmination of basketball arriving in Orlando. From here on out, expectations of victory would rule (and in some cases, rule) the day.
You could say that was what hampered the 2005 squad. This was a Magic team lost between a horrible season, the future of the franchise and a desire to make a quick rebound back to the Playoffs.
There were not many good offers for Tracy McGrady. The best might have involved Shawn Marion, but Jon Weisbrod insisted on also taking a young Joe Johnson too. The one the Magic settled on, and it was truly settling, was with the Rockets for Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley and Kelvin Cato.
It was not overwhelming in 2004, and it is very underwhelming now. You have to remember though that Francis was a perennial all star at this time. There was a belief that Francis would help keep the team somewhat relevant until Dwight Howard was ready to take over.
That, of course, never happened.
Why? Because Steve Francis was nuts.
When Weisbrod traded Cuttino Mobley, who was a very underrated player, to Sacramento for Doug Christie, who was even more nuts than Francis, in January, Francis was never the same. He became more temperamental and inconsistent. He pouted in Seattle (where ironically Christie stayed the rest of the year shaking his bag of bone spurs in Weisbrod’s face) and was a far cry from the player who made back-to-back game-winning shots in the first two games.
The future, despite Dwight Howard’s bubbling personality and promise for development, still looked pretty bleak. It looked worse when the team let Johnny Davis go mid-season and promoted young assistant coach Chris Jent to the main position.
If it were not for Hedo Turkoglu breaking his hand in late March, the Magic may have very well made the playoffs. They were hanging on at 32-35 coming back from a road trip that included the Seattle incident. A Playoff appearance would have made the season more palatable.
As it was, the first year without Tracy McGrady was tough. Howard had promise, but was relegated to put backs and rebounding as Davis opted to bring him slowly along. Francis and Turkoglu dominated the ball, but neither played consistently. And ultimately, Orlando fell short of its goals.
There is the stage. Here is the poll. Who is better?
Record and Expectations
Like I have said in analyzing the early teams in Magic history, there was not a lot of expectation. The Orlando Arena was full and rocking just with the prospect of professional basketball in town. After a few years, when the luster of the expansion years starts to wear off and you expect to get something back for your investment. Getting Shaquille O’Neal only enlarged those expectations and made fans want to accelerate the path to the top.
In a lot of ways 1993-94 was the first successful season in the franchise’s history. It was the first time the team met real success. Sure, the Magic were outclassed in a first round sweep to the Pacers — a team that was equally hungry and ready to ascend to the top. But things were still new for Orlando and the franchise and so everyone was still excited for the new experience that came with being in the Playoffs.
Nobody knew at this time the bold moves the Magic would take to get all the way to the top of the Eastern Conference the next year. But everyone could see what a bright future this team had and were ready to come along for the ride.
By the time we get to 2005, Magic fans had been through the roller coaster. And the 2005 season was as much a roller coaster as any other.
This team had playoff potential — remember how bad the East was — even without much prospects for staying far above .500, if that. Everyone knew it was going to take some time to rebuild but with an all star in Francis and a number one pick in (the still raw) Dwight Howard, the Playoffs were not that far out of reach.
Things just unraveled as the team faltered down the stretch and went 36-46. It was a 15-game improvement from the previous year’s 21-61. But the quick ascendance of the team and the Tracy McGrady era put a lot of expectation on the team to perform and play well quickly. That is probably, more than anything, why Johnny Davis was let go after a West Coast road trip and the team in the midst of a Playoff collapse.
Davis, and this Magic team, could not handle expectation and could not reach their potential.
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The 2005 team had a little more veteran poise than the 1993-94 team, but really lacked the talent to compete with a team of 1994′s caliber. The Magic with Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway — along with Dennis Scott and Nick Anderson — could just score on you. You could really see the makings of a special team in this group.
They could score almost at will from the outside and then bully you inside with O’Neal in the post. It was a versatile team that could put up points in a hurry and was just a lot of fun to watch.
The 2005 team might have been the exact opposite. They tended to slow the ball down as Steve Francis tried desperately to create. Dwight Howard was a rookie with raw talent asked only to do the simplest tasks. We know he was not being used to his fullest potential (although the struggles he went through this season might have helped him ultimately develop).
Believe it or not, Grant Hill had the highest PER on the team and was arguably its most consistent player. That is not good considering Steve Francis was supposed to be the star of the team. Hill was still more fitting in then starring. And it was a sign that, well, he never fulfilled the promise of his signing. Maybe Tracy McGrady’s departure was a sign of that as much as anything.
The series simulated in WhatIfSports.com shows exactly how inconsistent the 2005 team was. And, ultimately, how bad the team was. They never could get their act together.
Top to bottom, the 1994 team did everything right and the 2005 team could not.