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 opening round with our fourth matchup:
The 2001 season offered a lot of hope. The Heart and Hustle year was memorable for its surprise. But its purpose was ultimately for what July of 2000 would produce.
Orlando wined and dined the three top free agents from that summer. The team paraded Grant Hill, Tim Duncan and Tracy McGrady through RDV Sportsplex, which was plastered with photos of the three in Magic jerseys. Duncan was impressed. But David Robinson had his ear and convinced him to remain in San Antonio. So two out of three was not bad. Hill was a bona fide superstar (albeit on crutches at the time) and McGrady was a bundle of potential.
I think we know how this story turns out. The promise of having two big-time attackers and what we all thought would be the second coming of a Michael Jordan/Scottie Pippen-like backcourt. But it took only four games for that dream to come crashing down. Hill had not healed from his offseason ankle surgery and the team shelved him for the season. It allowed McGrady to truly blossom as a star, but it was the beginning of the heavy burden McGrady had to carry without Hill next to him.
Doc Rivers did a good job adjusting that year as McGrady began to come into his own. He averaged 26.8 points per game and began to foreshadow his offensive brilliance for the next three years in a Magic uniform. Of course, McGrady had to carry most of that burden. Hill was hurt. Darrell Armstrong just was not a second offensive option (although still very good) and Mike Miller was merely a rookie (a Rookie of the Year but not yet the guy you could rely on to add support for McGrady).
The team’s failures really came in the failures of the summer. Grant Hill was still in crutches and unable to play. Orlando needed him next to McGrady to provide some offensive support and some consistency next to the budding young star. And the inability to sign Duncan left Orlando a major hole at center. Despite John Amaechi and Andrew Declercq’s efforts, they weren’t Tim Duncan. And the Magic never could find anyone to give them a consistent presence down low.
The 1991 team still had the expansion honeymoon all over them. It really did not matter what their record was, Orlando was just happy to have a team and began to enjoy it. But a 13-game improvement after an 18-win season in 1990? That was just gravy.
Scott Skiles had his legendary assist game in 1991 on a December evening against the Nuggets. But did you know he was the team’s leading scorer that year too? How about a rookie named Dennis Scott scoring 15.7 points per game? Nick Anderson was even coming off the bench at this point. How about doing all this while playing in the Western Conference (true story)?
This team was a drastic improvement over the expansion team and seemed just a superstar away from really being something dangerous. Grabbing 31 wins in the second season in franchise history is simply astounding. This was a team still playing largely off of the castoffs it picked up in the expansion draft.
There is the stage, here is the poll. Who’s better?
Record, Results and Expectations
With the free agent hoopla surrounding the Hill and McGrady acquisitions, expectations were high. They were quickly dashed when Grant Hill went down to an injury and, at that point, I think people were just excited for a Playoff berth. To get that one win in the postseason over the hated Bucks in the Playoffs, an overtime Game Three victory where McGrady was immaculate with 42 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds, was a victory in itself it felt (remember, that Milwaukee team was pretty good with Glenn Robinson, Sam Cassell and Ray Allen).
There were plenty of problems with the 2001 team. McGrady was the only real offensive option and the team lacked anything resembling an inside presence. The team really relied on Grant Hill panning out to complete this team and move forward. But we now know that did not happen, really, ever during the life of his seven-year contract.
This was not a complete team. Even with Hill, the expectation was probably to make the Playoffs and build from there. In some sense, the team accomplished that with a 43-39 record and the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. There were definitely visions of getting into the top half of the Eastern Conference eventually. Whether that would happen this season? I honestly do not remember.
The 1991 team definitely still had the shine of a brand new franchise on it. Getting to 31 wins seems like it would be an exciting accomplishment for the young franchise. With no bona fide star and a move to the Western Conference so the league could showcase the Western teams in Central Florida (don’t ask me why), this team probably had minimal expectations and was only looking to improve off of the inaugural 18-64 season.
Mission accomplished there clearly.
There are no illusions about the 1991 team. It was not a good team. Expectations were just pretty low. The Magic finished 10 games out of the Playoffs (and tied for the nine seed, believe it or not) and never threatened Seattle’s position in the postseason.
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You can see how comparable the teams are statistically. The 1991 Magic played at a bit higher tempo and did not have the same defensive quality as the 2001 team. Nor did it have the centralizing superstar like Tracy McGrady. This could have led to wild fluctuations in how much the 1991 team could score.
But the 2001 team was hardly consistent too. McGrady was the only reliable offensive option night in and night out and that hurt Orlando as it tried to make a move in the postseason hunt. Even in a simulated series against the 1991 team, you can see some of the problems the 2001 team faced scoring. They could beat anyone because of McGrady but they could also lose to anyone because no one could consistently support him.
The 1991 team was all about surprising its opponents with an efficient offensive attack led by point Scott Skiles. Their individuals were not fantastic, and this team really had no Playoff aspirations at the beginning of the season. But they could be scrappy and pesky (as you can see somewhat in the simulated series). Again, I feel the 1991 team was probably a superstar short of being really dangerous.
The 2001 team had that superstar in McGrady. While the team fell short of its expectations, a lot of that was out of its power with Grant Hill going down. The promise of the 2001 team was much more than it actually was. But the 2001 team might have been the better overall squad despite 1991′s overachieving season.
My Pick: 2000-01