What if? Series: 1996 Orlando Magic vs. Seattle Supersonics

The Orlando Magic and Seattle SuperSonics were set to clash throughout the late 1990s as the two best young teams in the league. (Photo credit should read TONY RANZE/AFP via Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic and Seattle SuperSonics were set to clash throughout the late 1990s as the two best young teams in the league. (Photo credit should read TONY RANZE/AFP via Getty Images) /
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Shaquille O'Neal, Orlando Magic, Alonzo Mourning, Miami Heat
Shaquille O’Neal stands tall over every figure in Orlando Magic history. (Photo credit should read TONY RANZE/AFP via Getty Images) /


Do not let how lopsided our simulated series seemed was make you think the Seattle SuperSonics would have waxed the Orlando Magic so easily. I ran the simulation a second time and the Magic won the series 4-1. These were two extremely competitive teams.

But both had scars that ultimately cost them their shots at winning a championship and their future. Youth is wasted on the young. And the young can be extremely impatient.

For the Sonics it was year after year of failure that ultimately did them in and led to frustration as the NBA’s economics changed so drastically. For the Magic, it was in-fighting and jealousy that did them in.

Neither team could take on the Chicago Bulls with those flaws. The Bulls were just so much more efficient and focused than either of these teams. The Magic and Sonics could never overcome their own flaws. Their failures hung over them — from Nick Anderson’s free throws to the Sonics’ constant shortcomings in the playoffs.

That last step to a championship is clearly the most difficult step for any team — young or otherwise.

Both the Magic and the Sonics were well equipped to win a title. But 1996 was clear Seattle’s turn to win if the team could have gotten there.

The Sonics had a team that was hard to defend with size throughout the roster. They started a traditional lineup with Ervin Johnson or Frank Brickowski at center with Shawn Kemp at power forward. That still left the 6-foot-10 Detlef Schrempf at small forward. Few teams could match up with that size.

And then when Sam Perkins came in, a true stretch-4 made them nearly impossible to handle.

People do not give Kemp enough credit. He averaged 19.6 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. In the 1996 Finals, he averaged 23.3 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. Nary a mention in the documentary. Even Rodman struggled with him.

The Sonics probably entered the series a bit intimidated with the Bulls. That cost them as much as anything. That they could not get their second crack — losing in the 1997 second round to the Houston Rockets — is a great tragedy for one of the better teams of the era.

The playoffs always confounded them.

The Magic had their own set of problems, however. The 1996 team was likely the worst of the Magic’s four championship teams. Orlando did not have a lot of depth that year. They rode through the season and the playoffs on Anfernee Hardaway’s individual brilliance and Shaquille O’Neal’s dominance.

But it was a rough go when the chips were really down against quality teams.

A series between the Sonics and the Magic would come down to how the Magic defended Schrempf and tried to find size on him. And then it would come down to the Magic’s 3-point shooting. If Orlando hit a cold spell, the team could struggle against the rest of the Sonics’ size.

Orlando had a good team in 1996. It may not have been as transcendent as the 1995 team and certainly not good enough to stand up to the Bulls that year. But this was not the Magic’s year.

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It should have been Seattle’s.