Timing was not right for Orlando Magic and Anfernee Hardaway to reunite

Anfernee Hardaway impressed Orlando Magic brass but the timing ultimately was not right for him to make the jump to the NBA. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
Anfernee Hardaway impressed Orlando Magic brass but the timing ultimately was not right for him to make the jump to the NBA. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports /

When Anfernee Hardaway returned to the Amway Center for the team’s 25th anniversary, he admitted he was apprehensive.

His departure from Orlando in 1999 was messy, to say the least. There were angry phone calls to the local call-in radio shows and bitter finger-pointing as Anfernee Hardaway’s knees gave way and the reality that the championships would not return became real in the wake of Shaquille O’Neal’s departure.

Frustration had given in.

Fans were frustrated their one-time star was not able to be out on the floor with a never-ending run of injuries. Hardaway was frustrated he could not play either and frustrated he was receiving the blame for something he could hardly control.

Even as time passed, Hardaway was worried he would not be welcomed back in town after that acrimonious exit. Time does heal all wounds. And eventually, the hero was welcomed home.

Of all the players who returned to Orlando for that anniversary season, no one probably got a louder ovation than Hardaway.

He was home. The time was right to be in Orlando then.

It was not the right time now though.

Anfernee Hardaway will not be the next coach of the Orlando Magic after the former All-Star announced he was staying with the Memphis Tigers.

Hardaway at the end of the day stuck to his original sentiment. He was “flattered” by the interest and, in the process, he may have proven he will make a great NBA coach one day. But he still had work to do at Memphis and this leap to the NBA was not for him right now.

Hardaway officially pulled his name from the Magic’s coaching search with a message to fans on his Instagram page. It will be his time for the NBA one day, but this was not his day or his opportunity.

"“Just like I had dreams coming out of college to make it to the NBA and I achieved those goals,” Hardaway said n Instagram. “It was a huge goal and a dream for me. One day in the future, I would like to coach in the NBA. And wouldn’t that be great if it were the Orlando Magic. But today is not that day. . . . I’m going to be here and I don’t want you guys to be afraid I’m going anywhere.”"

The Magic’s coaching search will continue without Hardaway.

Hardaway certainly wanted the experience of going through a head coaching interview at the NBA level. And all the reports and rumors that started to come out suggested he did a great job on the interview.

So too did the report that came out about an hour after Hardaway made his announcement that Memphis would hire Larry Brown as his lead assistant, a strong coincidence that the leaked reporting was actually leverage for Memphis to hire a high-priced assistant.

Reports on the Magic side of things added that the team is still focused on bringing in a coach with some NBA experience with Kenny Atkinson or Terry Stotts still believed to be the favored candidates.

The interest in Hardaway though was real enough to get an interview. And his interest in the NBA is certainly real that this may one day happen.

Just not now. Hardaway still has work to do in Memphis.

The time was not right to return to his NBA home, as welcomed as he would be.

When Hardaway first returned to Orlando, he was on his own journey home. He was coaching high school at that time and beginning to make a name for himself on the AAU circuits.

In a few years, he would be back at his alma mater coaching Memphis and trying to resurrect the program he put on the map.

And then this job opened up. Perhaps his dream NBA job.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

The one that is located in what is essentially his second home. The second home he rediscovered still loved him not so long ago.

Magic fans were clamoring for Hardaway to return to where he starred. Even before the team opened its coaching position.

Hardaway was fantasy booked to rejoin the team. He remains one of the most popular players in the franchise’s history, those hard days long forgotten.

This felt like a team that was tailor-made to what has made him successful as a coach so far.

This was a young squad that needed a coach they could relate to and a guiding hand to learn and develop. Recruits to this point have respected Hardaway’s voice and counsel. Players who once played for Hardaway certainly stood up for him — such as James Wiseman and even Magic guard R.J. Hampton who trained with Hardaway before the Draft.

If Hardaway had a concern, it was that he had not yet accumulated wins despite the early recruiting accolades. In three seasons, he has won nearly two-thirds of his games but only has two NIT appearances to show for it, including a title in 2021.

Perhaps Memphis would have made the tournament had the 2020 season not been cut short, but that is still a black mark on his ledger.

That is what he mentioned most in his video. He still has work to do for his alma mater and big goals to achieve there. One that would never be easy to pass up.

Who knows if the Magic job will open at the right time for Hardaway again. He might have been a bit hesitant to take on a job that has such a long way to go to be competitive in the first place.

Then again, there are only 30 of those jobs open. It is hard to pass them up when they become open and when they are offered.

The timing may not ever be right again for Hardaway to return home. Then again, Hardaway’s name will surely come up the next time the Magic are looking for a coach. It would be hard to believe that the team would not go through this cycle again — no matter who might be in charge of the decisionmaker.

Hardaway will always have that pull for the Magic and for their fans. He is not going anywhere in coaching circles anytime soon.

And so now simply was not the time for this to happen perhaps for either side.

Next. Orlando Magic's different routes for the NBA Draft. dark

Hardaway will remain a favorite son of Orlando and cheered whenever he comes to his second home. Whether that will one day be as a head coach will be a story for another time.