Every team can run through its own gamut of “what if” scenarios. The Magic will always wonder what might have happened had Shaquille O’Neal decided to stay in Orlando? What about if Grant Hill were healthy? How about if Tim Duncan would have decided to come to Orlando? What if the Magic kept Chris Webber instead of trading him for Penny Hardaway?
These questions are very difficult to answer because so many variables go into play in determining how good a team could be and what a different move here or a different move there would have done.
When you come across stories like this, it just makes you think.
Way back at the beginning of the 1992-93 season, Shaquille O’Neal‘s rookie season, the Magic were preparing to build their first .500 team. The Pistons were very much on the way down with Isiah Thomas’ career winding down and Chuck Daly moving on to coach the Nets. Detroit failed in its bid for a three-peat and was poising itself to rebuild.
More than anything Daly was likely the only one who could handle a-not-quite-crazy-yet Dennis Rodman, and seeing as the ink had barely dried on his new contract, the Pistons probably wanted more from their wiry rebounder. Or at least a shooter to make up for his crazy rebounding rate.
It was early in that season that Detroit began shopping Rodman around. It was in late November that the team apparently called Orlando asking Dennis Scott in return for Rodman, as Tim Povtak then of the Orlando Sentinel (hat tip to follower Adam Papageorgiou) reported. For a young team like Orlando, still with no playoff experience, this might have been a tough decision to make.
Tom Tolbert’s signing to replace Terry Catledge aside, Rodman would have been a great front court pairing with O’Neal to sort of ease the team’s number one pick into the lineup a little bit and allow him to gain confidence on defense by playing the weaker post player.
Not that Shaq needed it, seeing as he averaged 13.9 rebounds per game and 3.5 blocks per game his rookie year. If O’Neal and Rodman paired up, the Magic would have probably the best rebounding duo in the league and an insanely difficult front court to handle.
When the two actually did pair up in the lockout-shortened 1999 season, the Lakers posted a 6-5 record when the two started next to each other, giving up an average of 98.6 points per game in those games.
This is hardly an accurate depiction of how the two would have played together. The 1999 season was a mess with numerous players coming back from the lockout out of shape, including Rodman, and scoring going way down as they tried to cram a 50-game schedule into three and a half months. You can throw a lot of those statistics out, frankly (still have to give the Spurs that title though).
There is no doubt this is an interesting pairing. Rodman did quite a number on O’Neal in the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals at times. He was an important defensive cog in the second Bulls three-peat that started in 1996.
Would this have been a good move for the Magic?
It does not appear so. Rodman still led the league in rebounding rate after the Pistons sent him to the Spurs in October 1993 to play alongside David Robinson. But those Spurs teams also fell short of winning a championship, even with the league’s top seed in 1995.
You have to ask the question whether Rodman would have been a bad influence on O’Neal. Or whether O’Neal and Rodman would have possibly clashed behind closed doors. I mean, Scott Skiles and O’Neal had their clashes in the time together in Orlando.
Dennis Scott was an average player, scoring-wise. But his impact on the game was pretty clear. He kept defenders away from O’Neal and tethered to him on the perimeter or paid the price. Horace Grant, whom you would assume the Magic would not have signed with Rodman in the fold, did that too with his ability to hit perimeter jumpers.
That does not even get into whether Orlando would have taken Webber and traded him like they did or whether they would have even gotten the number one pick that year (I imagine they would have still traded Webber for Penny Hardaway
It seems from thinking about it all, Rodman was not the missing piece for that young Magic team in 1993 and certainly not in 1994 or 1995. Really they needed some experience and to let Shaq grow. It is pretty unclear what another post presence (a non-offensive one at that) would have done to that.
O’Neal was clearly ready to come into the league and produce. I think Pat Williams got this one right.
Have a what if scenario you would like me to explore? Drop a comment on this post or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or shoot me a message on Twitter @omagicdaily.
Photo via DayLife.com.