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 second matchup:
A good way to judge improvement is to see where the teams immediately following and immediately before finished in these brackets. The 1999 lockout team fell back from 16 to 20 after the Magic began its major cap-clearing rebuilding project. The 2002 team fell from 13 to 17 for the 2003 version. These were the two teams that did battle in our first matchup.
The 2002 team is the highest seeded Tracy McGrady team in the bracket. Results-wise they might have been the best too. By offensive rating it was Rivers’ best Magic team. Orlando finished 44-38 and earned the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Magic took on a spunky Baron Davis-led Charlotte Hornets team in their last year in Charlotte.
As far as impact goes, this was the season McGrady really established himself as a perennial All Star and MVP candidate. It was here where McGrady and the team came to realize Grant Hill was not going to be healthy any time soon. McGrady absolutely took over the team and became its sole guiding light and hope for the future. You could begin to see how good McGrady could be and you could pray the team found the help he never got.
The team met regular season success and looked ready to compete for a spot in the conference semifinals. Baron Davis’ wild shot (not counted at the time) to end regulation sparked the Hornets to a Game Three win and the Magic could not bounce back, losing in Game Four on their home floor.
But the 2000 team holds a special place in Magic history. The team failed to make the playoffs, barely finished at .500. Yet it still was a special year. During the summer, Chuck Daly had retired, failing to guid the Magic out of the first round in two seasons. The young Doc Rivers took the helm as the team’s head coach, bringing energy and enthusiasm to the job. But gone were Penny Hardaway (to Phoenix), Horace Grant (to Seattle) and, most painfully, Nick Anderson (to Sacramento).
This Magic team was moving away from the 1995 Finals team and trying to forge a new identity. That identity of course was caked in the promise of the 2001 free agent class. Orlando had positioned itself to sign all three big-name free agents — Tim Duncan, Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady. The 1999-2000 season was supposed to be a throwaway season. Just about everyone picked the rag-tag squad of Magic players to finish dead last in the East.
With Rivers, Darrell Armstrong and Bo Outlaw’s energy, this Magic team defied the odds. Getting to .500 and finishing just outside the postseason (starting that heated rivalry with the Bucks). More than anything, everyone appreciated the amount of effort this underdog team put into every game.
It was like The Replacements. Most knew they were not going to be back the next season and were all playing for contracts somewhere, anywhere. It is probably the one non-Playoff team that appears in that history video before each game at Amway Center and was one of the most enjoyable seasons in team history.
There is the stage, here is the poll. Who’s better?
Record, Results & Expectations
The 2002 team expected to have Grant Hill after his injuries kept him sidelined for almost the entire 2000-01 season. Tracy McGrady was blossoming into a star after averaging 26.7 points per game and Orlando felt very confident with Mike Miller coming off his rookie of the year campaign. Adding in veteran presences down low in Horace Grant and Patrick Ewing were expected to help Orlando reach another level.
And largely they did. Orlando finished with the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference with a 44-38 record. The team’s offense was difficult to handle with McGrady surrounded by shooters like Darrell Armstrong, Mike Miller and the emerging Pat Garrity. The team was far from perfect. Not even anywhere close to championship worthy. But that dream of getting out of the first round was within reach.
Ultimately its low talent level and versatility around McGrady — not to mention the interchangeable parts in the post — kept this team from achieving that goal.
The 2000 team was full of overachievers. With Orlando selling off every player it could and getting expiring contracts and pennies on the dollar, the team had no expectations. The only expectation was that John Gabriel would deliver superstars during the summer in free agency. Any win, it seemed, was gravy.
So by finishing 41-41 with a bunch of no-name players and veteran wanderers, this team endeared itself to Orlando fans like no other. They far surpassed expectation and turned it into one of the most miraculous and exciting seasons in franchise history. A Playoff berth would have been having our cake and eating it to in so many ways.
When the summer came and it became clear McGrady, Hill and Duncan were eyeing Orlando very closely, many regretted the pieces the team would have to let go to make a deal work. Nobody really wanted to see Ben Wallace go. Everyone loved the promise Corey Maggette seemed to have within him. There were a lot of regrets coming out of that year after the Grant Hill thing came about. But this season accomplished a lot for the franchise and is embedded in Magic fans’ memories.
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I have to say I am surprised by the result of the simulated series. I did not see the 2000 Heart and Hustle team being able to hang with the offensive-minded barrage of Tracy McGrady. As you can see, both these teams were high on scoring and low on defense. That was their m.o. And really the m.o. of every team in the 2000s.
Where the 1999 team gets their advantage, at least head-to-head, is in rebounding. The McGrady teams were notoriously bad at rebounding. As John Gabriel tried (and failed) to find centers that could come in and help shore up the paint defensively and on the glass. Patrick Ewing and Horace Grant were well past their primes and unable to provide that punch.
Ben Wallace was certainly able to do that as he began his ascendance. So too could Chris Gatling, who was pretty gritty and solid as a journeyman coming off the bench.
Really the 2000 team was just a good mix of guys. They really played hard and enjoyed playing. Against a mediocre team like the 2002 team, you would expect to give them a fighting chance to win the series. Against good teams, you hoped for the best.
McGrady would probably have a good time scoring against this team, but as Orlando learned in that postseason, he was not enough alone against a multi-pronged guard attack. The 2000 team would really give the 2002 team a run for its money.
And as far as impact and memory, the 2000 team is right up there at the top, memorialized as the Heart and Hustle team.
My Pick: 1999-2000