Magic Masters Semifinals: 2010 vs. 1996 — Analysis


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 begin the semifinals:

We have (finally) reached the semifinals of Magic Masters and only four teams remain in the competition to be the best Magic team in franchise history. The four in the semifinals are the four you would expect: the 1994-95 team that went to the Finals, the 1995-96 team that is the only team to get to 60 wins, the 2008-09 team that went to the Finals and the 2009-10 team that reached the Conference Finals and had the best 41-game stretch in team history.

This is some big time stuff. So I will take this in two parts. The first part of each matchup will take a look at the analysis. The second part will simulate a seven-game series using

For this analysis, I wanted to solicit the help of someone who spent a good portion of the lockout watching whatever Magic basketball he could. Josh Cohen of covers the team for the team’s Web site and you can see his posts and video from Magic games and on the odds and ends of Magic basketball at the team’s official Web site: Be sure to follow Josh Cohen on Twitter @Josh_Cohen_NBA.

Cohen was kind enough to answer some questions about these four teams and entertain me with an answer to the ultimate question — Who is the best team in Orlando Magic history?

Our first matchup features the 2010 team taking on the 1996 team. I will present Josh’s answers, and then answer my own questions too.

1) What is something that stands out to you about each of those four teams? What makes them really memorable (aside from the deep playoff runs)?

Josh: 1996 — Unlike the previous year when they were the darlings of the league and flew under the radar, there were some titanic expectations for the 1996 team. They virtually had the same roster, but were obviously more experienced and savvier. If not for a rejuvenated Michael Jordan, there is no doubt the Magic would have hoisted the trophy this season.

2010 — They had the formula and the depth, but didn’t have the dependability. Essentially, the Magic restructured their team to resemble what most championship teams look like. It’s the model that delivered three straight championships to L.A. to start the century. Compliment the best big man, Dwight Howard, with a premier scorer, Vince Carter. But in contrast to Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant during their triumphant tenure together, Howard was still developing and Carter was past his prime. The inspiration was perfect, but the execution was slightly misjudged.

OMD: 1996 — This season often gets overshadowed because of the 72-10 Bulls and the 1995 Finals appearance after. Not to mention Shaquille O’Neal leaing during the summer. It was almost a year to forget. And it remains relatively forgotten. Most people probably do not know that this is the best team by record in the team’s history. Statistically, though, it overperformed. It was not as good as its record indicated and probably went as far in the Playoffs as it should have.

2010 — I have a feeling the 2010 team is going to meet the same fate since this team failed to make the Finals and then disappointed in the conference finals. But, unlike the 1996 team, this squad was a statistical gem. Balanced offensively, able to beat you from just about every position on the floor. Incredibly deep. Strong defensively. This was everything you want from a championship-caliber team.

2) I seeded the brackets using season statistics and the Four Factors and record, etc. and the formula I used spat out the 2009-10 team as the top overall seed. Yet, that year was a disappointment considering the Finals trip the year before and then the fall that happened the year after. They are kind of stuck in the middle. Does this team deserve more recognition than history might give it? Was the number one seed deserved?

Josh: Like I elucidated in my response to the first question, the 2009-10 team was built on the correct theory. Like Shaq-Kobe, Duncan-Ginobili, Kareem-Magic, Olajuwon-Drexler, etc., the formula to be unassailable is to have that perfect balance. Possessing the most dominant center, which the Magic have in Dwight Howard, meant all that Orlando needed was the prolific scorer in the backcourt. Based on this philosophy, the Magic acted wisely to acquire Vince Carter as he showed in New Jersey the previous season that he was still one of the best scorers in the league.

If not for a Celtics team that caught fire at the perfect time and if VC had a little more fuel in the tank in the playoffs, there is a very strong chance the Magic would have won the NBA championship in 2010. They would have had the home-court advantage in the NBA Finals against the Lakers if they had beaten the Celtics in the conference finals. Thus, I think it may be appropriate to deem this particular Magic team the No. 1 seed under this supposition.

OMD: I have spent a lot of this series analyzing the team’s place historicaly both statistically and emotionally. I think both are incredibly important in evaluating things this series. But, to avoid being arbitrary I did use statistics. And, statistically, the 2010 team was the best. They were a top-five offensive team and the best defensive team in that league. Vince Carter was not who we all thought he would be, but Orlando still had a balanced attack and was good enough to be absolutely dominant for 49 games — 33-8 to end the season and 8-0 to start the Playoffs. Unfortunately, we know how things ended and that left a bitter taste in the franchise’s mouth.

3) The 1996 team is in the same boat as the 2010 team, actually. Everyone forgets this team still holds the record for most wins in franchise history. If it weren’t for the 72-10 Bulls, would a banner be hanging in Amway Center?

Josh: Definitely. There was no doubt in my mind that even before the 1995-96 season started, the Bulls and Magic were the two best teams in the league. And based on the previous season’s results, I would have suggested Orlando was better than Chicago since we weren’t sure if MJ would be the MJ of old or not.

Shaq was the most dominant center that year, Penny was the most dynamic guard and the supporting cast, which included Horace Grant and Nick Anderson, were an incredibly talented and balanced team. It just turns out Jordan was invincible that season.

OMD: I definitely agree with Josh here in the greatest “what if” in Magic history. Who on Seattle was going to handle Shaquille O’Neal? Jim McIlvane? It would have been a great Finals between two teams that knew how to spread the floor. The thing many people do not remember about the 1996 team is that they started the season with Shaq on the injured list. Orlando played the first 22 games of the season without O’Neal that year, handed the Bulls one of their 10 loses with Jon Koncak in the middle and went 17-5. This was a deep team. Just not at the all-time level as that Bulls team.

4) Figuring out who the best team in Magic history is really an exercise in determining your taste in Magic eras. Dwight Howard or Shaq? Hedo or Penny? Rashard and the stretch-4 or Horace Grant and the hard-nosed 1990s? Which era holds the most memories and most impact in Magic history?

Josh: Largely because of the evolution of the Internet and expanded television coverage, we saw every aspect from every angle of the 2009 and 2010 teams. The Magic teams of the 90’s were certainly different than the Magic teams of today. It would be dismissive to not suggest that the Shaq-Penny teams were not more talented because they were. If not for injury, Hardaway would probably be a Hall of Famer and one of the best to ever play. And if Shaq stayed in Orlando, there would be at least one banner if not multiple banners at Amway Center right now.

OMD: It is definitely hard to quantify memories from these two eras. I grew up watching the mid-90s era Magic, but I understood the nuances of the game better when the late-2000s teams came around. And certainly the pain of the interregnum period made me appreciate the more recent run. It is hard to tell. The mid-90s run was my introduction to basketball and for a lot of people in Orlando it was the same. It made the Magic a staple in the community and really cemented allegiance for a lot of people.

5) OK, onto the fantasy matchup. If the 1996 team faced the 2010 team, which team would win? What matchup advantages would each have against the other?

Josh: I think the 1996 team. You can argue that at every position, the 1996 team would be favored. Shaq over Dwight, Horace over Rashard, Scott over Barnes, Anderson over Carter (that particular year), Penny over Nelson. The 2010 team had a stronger bench, however, when you examine Marcin Gortat, Mickael Pietrus and Jason Williams. I would say the 1996 team would win a seven-game series in 5 or 6 games.

OMD: It certainly would be an interesting matchup. As I alluded to in the fourth quaestion, the Grant-Lewis matchup would be extremely intriguing. Probably one of the decisive matchups. But I have to agree with Josh. Despite the statistical dominance of the 2010 team, we saw what a gritty and tough low post defender could do. O’Neal and Grant would be much tougher than Perkins and Garnett. It will be interesting to see how the series goes.

My thanks again to Josh for taking the time to answer my questions for this fantasy matchup. We will have more with Josh for our second semifinal matchup.