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 third matchup:
The 2006 season was very uneventful. Mediocrity reigned in the post-McGrady era. We learned fairly quickly (if we did not know already) Steve Francis was more of a headache than he was worth and was likely holding back Dwight Howard’s development. Jameer Nelson was still a pesky point guard coming off the bench and there were solid role players who would help lead the Magic back to prominence.
But this team was still a long way off. Howard was still a long way off. And Brian Hill was not the best coach for the job.
Despite all that, the 2006 team gave Magic fans hope for the future. The mid-season trade of Steve Francis brought in Darko Milicic and cap space with it. And then all of a sudden after that trade was made, things clicked. The team got hot and got back into the Playoff race. The Magic won eight straight games and 12 of the last 15, falling two games short of sneaking into the Playoffs for the first time since 2003.
It was not to be as the team was a year away from accomplishing that goal. But this young and spunky team, with a coach who favored a very slow type of game that lacked a lot of offensive imagination and did not quite fit his personnel, showed a lot of promise for the future.
The present though in 2006 was increasingly bleak until Orlando unloaded Steve Francis. Orlando, as strong as it finished, had a 2-18 stretch in January and February that put the team in a deep hole it scrambled to climb out of. Francis was horribly inconsistent and far from the star Jon Weisbrod promised.
And that inconsistency proliferated throughout the roster. Dwight Howard was still solely relied on for defense and rebounding — little attention was paid to developing his post game. Hedo Turkoglu was exactly how we remember him, except not featured as much and a lot more inconsistent. Brian Hill was among the many coaches who could not unlock Turkoglu’s talents. Grant Hill was injured… again, this time with a sports hernia, so at least it was not his ankle.
There was promise, but it was the same promise that was made years before.
In 1992, Orlando was still largely in the honeymoon phase of the franchise. Nobody was quite ready to expect a playoff berth, but the expansion days were coming to an end and it was no longer enough to show up and be excited.
Orlando got lucky in turning the 21-61 season into Shaquille O’Neal and the No. 1 pick in the Draft. This team though was still trying to find itself.
Nick Anderson was quietly becoming a near-All Star, he averaged 19.9 points per game that year. And Dennis Scott had his best scoring season, doing a lot of damage from behind the 3-point line as we came to be accustomed. But, of course, those players were both role players on the 1995 Finals teams. They were not ever meant (maybe Anderson was) to be first options offensively.
The Magic’s balanced scoring attack did not work to say the least. Nobody could take control of the offense and the team was lost defensively, likely because the team lacked any type of veteran presence. Orlando posted a 110.5 defensive rating, the second worst in Magic history. Excuses were starting to run short as the team needed the lift it got from the Draft to get to the next level.
There is the stage, here is the poll. Who’s better?
Record, Results & Expectations
Both of these teams fell short of what they were expected to do.
For the 1992 team it was simply to improve. But going back from 31 wins to 21 wins (especially after a 13-win swing up in the second year of the team’s existence) was not what Orlando had in mind in building toward its first Playoff appearance.
For the 2006 team, the inconsistency kept it from reaching the Playoffs. Really it was a miracle that 2006 got to 36-46, matching the previous year’s record (a team that injuries derailed at the end).
Still the 2006 season undoubtedly ended on a higher note. The team scrapped the Steve Francis experiment, Jon Weisbrod was on his way out and the team showed a ton of potential in the month of the season to get close to a Playoff berth. There was optimism at the end of the season because of the potential Darko Milicic showed (yes, I just wrote that) and because Grant Hill seemed like he finally would be healthy (he would, and I just wrote that).
With a young Dwight Howard still developing, things looked very good for Orlando.
Maybe too you could claim there was optimism at the end of the 1992 season too. There was hope the Magic could net something in the Draft Lottery. More importantly, Orlando could probably see that it needed a star to solidify the solid role players the team had. The 1995 Finals run was cemented with a lot of the players on this 1992 roster. The only difference was it was role players forced into starring roles. Orlando needed some luck to complete the picture.
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I think the simulated series perfectly displays the faults of both of these teams. The 2006 team could get hot and and play really well at times, but was inconsistent defensively. The 1992 team could never get enough consistent scoring to be able to beat solid teams on a night-by-night basis.
The fact is, the 1992 team has nobody who can match up with the Darko Milicic/Dwight Howard combination. Stanley Roberts, Brian Williams, Terry Catledge and Jerry Reynolds just were not that good. If any of those guys were coming off the bench OK, but those were your rotation and starters. Even a rudimentary Dwight Howard would have an easy time patrolling the paint and even scoring.
Now, the Magic might have some problems with Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott. But could Anderson, even at his height, handle the growing confidence of Trevor Ariza and DeShawn Stevenson on the perimeter? What they lacked in offensive ability, they made up for with solid perimeter defense. Scott Skiles obviously has an edge over a young Jameer Nelson (and definitely over Steve Francis if you go pre-trade).
But as a team, and in their performance, the 2006 team was a much better squad. 1992 is not a team to sleep on in a single game matchup. But over the long haul, the 1992 team was far from close to the postseason.
My Pick: 2005-06