Orlando Magic’s chase of Anfernee Hardaway cannot be about nostalgia

Memphis Tigers head coach Anfernee Hardaway instructs the team during a timeout in the first half of a men's NCAA basketball game against the Cincinnati Bearcats, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021, at Fifth Third Arena in Cincinnati.Memphis Tigers At Cincinnati Bearcats Feb 28
Memphis Tigers head coach Anfernee Hardaway instructs the team during a timeout in the first half of a men's NCAA basketball game against the Cincinnati Bearcats, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021, at Fifth Third Arena in Cincinnati.Memphis Tigers At Cincinnati Bearcats Feb 28 /

It did not take long after the Orlando Magic parted ways with Steve Clifford for Anfernee Hardaway’s name to surface. Fans had been speculating or desiring a reunion with Hardaway ever since he took the job with Memphis or broke out as a premiere coach on the AAU scene.

Members of the media even immediately brought Anfernee Hardaway’s name up to president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman.

Weltman demurred then, saying he understands Hardaway’s connection to the franchise and the team certainly would look into him if he was interested. Hardaway, for his part, seemed to say he was flattered by the attention but reaffirmed his commitment to his alma mater at Memphis.

At that point, the Magic went back to their usual silence. A few names started to come out as the team began the interview process. But Orlando stays quiet in its search. So when something concrete does come out, it feels like it hits like a bomb.

And anything with Hardaway is going to hit this franchise even harder because of his connection to the team.

So prepare to overreact a bit. Hardaway not only got an interview with the Magic but reportedly made an impression. Take our power rankings from Sunday afternoon and throw them out the window, Penny Hardaway has entered the chat.

Anfernee Hardaway was confirmed to have an interview with the Orlando Magic and it went well. But his hire cannot simply be a nostalgia play. He needs to be able to do the job.

Shams Charania of The Athletic was the first to confirm Hardaway had an interview with Magic staff while at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago this weekend. He reported Hardaway emerged from that meeting as a “serious candidate.”

Then the reporting began to snowball.

Keith Smith of Spotrac reported sources he has within the Magic front office labeled Hardaway their “dream candidate.” John Martin, who covers the Memphis Tigers for The Athletic reported the Magic went into their interview expecting it to be a courtesy to a franchise legend but came out of the meeting impressed with him after an hourslong meeting.

That is how we got to this point.

None of this suggests Hardaway’s hire is imminent or the Magic are about to cut short their process.

It was only Saturday reports the team set out to interview Dallas Mavericks assistant Jamahl Mosley broke. And the Magic have reported interest in several coaches who are still competing in the conference finals. The team cannot wait forever on them, but they can certainly hold out another week to complete their search if they have been unable to interview them to this point.

Still, Hardaway’s name is the one that will capture the headlines. It is the one that requires a post on this Web site to get written. The one who immediately sparked rumors the moment the job opened up. And the one who still strikes a chord with Magic fans.

The amount of excitement among Magic fans for Hardaway reaching this stage of the interview process was easy to see online. Bringing Hardaway back into the fold is a fantasy for the Magic. It is one of the team’s heroes returning to save a woeful franchise.

It is Steve Spurrier turning the Florida Gators into a powerhouse football program. Or Danny Ainge resurrecting the Boston Celtics. The story really writes itself.

Nostalgia is a powerful tool. But one that can also blind to problems. The warm feelings of the past are not always a reason to actin the present.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

The Magic played the nostalgia game with Scott Skiles when the team hired him as their coach.

He was there to rescue the team from the doldrums of its rebuild and instill some discipline. But he certainly got his in because of his relationship with Alex Martins and the franchise as a whole. At that point, ownership was trying to spark the franchise any way it could even if the general manager was not completely oon board.

Skiles was the kind of no-nonsense person who never gave in to answering questions about his past or his relationship with the Magic from his playing days. He was focused on his process and his way to help the team win.

It worked until it did not.

He soured on the whole experience quickly and his departure was bitter, potentially fraying his relationship with the franchise forever. At least he had the history of being able to do the job. Nobody could have seen what was coming with him.

The Magic are hoping to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past rebuild.

So nostalgia alone cannot be the reason to hire a coach. It needs to be the right person, which also means the team needs to be willing to fire the nostalgic hire.

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It is not that it does not work. The Magic reached back to hire Steve Clifford to recapture some of what worked with Stan Van Gundy and the Magic of the late 2000s. He also was adept at the exact thing the Magic were trying to accomplish.

So the question as the Magic think about whether to bring Hardaway back should not be about what he did for the franchise in the mid-1990s or the affection fans have for him, but rather can he do the job.

His relationship with the franchise certainly seemed to get him an interview with the team. It is hard to ignore that fan chatter. But it appears his ideas and vision are what got him an extended chat and more serious consideration for the job.

That is all good. But everyone should also come into this understanding how unproven Hardaway still is.

He has been a college coach at Memphis for three years. And while there have been some impressive recruiting wins, that is not part of the job description in the NBA. What will matter is his ability to develop young players and caoch them to wins.

Here at Memphis is his biggest weakness. He has yet to make the NCAA Tournament in his three seasons. While his NIT win this past season was a solid step forward, undoubtedly Hardaway still has a lot to prove as a coach.

That does not necessarily mean he is the wrong coach for this moment. Anfernee Hardaway has become well known for the relationships he has built with players — he was in Chicago to work out and coach Houston’s Quentin Grimes and had worked previously with R.J. Hampton in his draft preparations.

If there is someone who can reach and help a young team like the Magic, a coach like Hardaway would seem to fit the bill. And clearly he took his candidacy seriously and impressed Magic brass enough for all these reports to come bursting out.

Only time will tell if Hardaway truly stands out. But it needs to be his coaching acumen, ideas and relationships that get him there. If Orlando is simply hiring him to sell tickets or nostalgia, it will be the wrong move.

The excitement Magic fans feel is likely born out of this nostalgia and marketing should not be upset to have that as a selling point.

But ultimately success is proven on the court. And the bigger questions are about whether Hardaway is truly ready to take on the NBA job.

Next. All of Steve Clifford's weaknesses were exposed. dark

If he answers those questions better than anyone else the team interviews, then he is the right man for it.