5 ways the Orlando Magic have changed the NBA in 35 years

The Orlando Magic have had some transformative players and moments that have helped shape the NBA. (Photo by Larry W. Smith-Pool/Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic have had some transformative players and moments that have helped shape the NBA. (Photo by Larry W. Smith-Pool/Getty Images) /
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Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic
MIAMI, FL – MARCH 03: Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic points to a heckler after winning a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on March 3, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

5 ways the Orlando Magic have changed the NBA

All Kinds of Star Trades

Unfortunately, it is impossible to discuss Orlando Magic history without acknowledging how difficult the team’s separation from its stars has been. Orlando’s history is defined by the way their stars have left and the empty feeling left by a team unable to hold onto its stars or even to end their eras on mutually beneficial terms.

No matter how teams separate from their stars — and it is always inevitable except in exceptionally rare circumstances — it is always painful. And the Magic have frankly experienced it all.

With Shaquille O’Neal, they did not accurately predict the explosion in NBA contracts that came to the league just as he hit free agency in 1996.

O’Neal may have always had eyes on the brighter lights of Los Angeles and the CBA quirk that kept him from entering restricted free agency hurt, but the team gave him every reason to leave by not backing up the Brinks truck. The Orlando Sentinel’s poll did not help matters, but nobody understood the money coming to the NBA at that time.

This time Orlando was left with nothing and losing a player of that caliber was devastating and something the franchise never fully recovered from until the Dwight Howard draft pick reset the franchise.

The Magic as an organization has clearly operated vowing never to repeat this mistake.

With Anfernee Hardaway, injuries had consumed the narrative around the former star. And a frustrated, misunderstanding public blamed Hardaway for his injuries and the franchise’s poor fortune.

It was a bitter breakup that ended as the Magic dumped him to the Phoenix Suns to kickstart their salary-dumping rebuild. At least Orlando got something for him this time, although his value was significantly depressed thanks to his injuries.

Tracy McGrady was the first star Magic player to request a trade. He was frustrated with the team’s inability to surround him with better players and the first-round exits. His disagreement with then-general manager Jon Weisbrod further hurt things and he was determined not to play.

Orlando did not want to commit to a full rebuild despite holding the number one pick and turned Tracy McGrady into an All-Star in Steve Francis along with Cuttino Mobley and Kelvin Cato. That plan was combustible with Francis as the lead and blew up in their faces after they traded Mobley in January.

The Magic again had to make a choice when Dwight Howard requested a trade. Determined not to make the same mistake as with O’Neal, Orlando explored trade opportunities. But as Howard wrestled with his indecision and desire to stay in Orlando, the Magic let time tick by and his value decrease.

They ultimately decided to do a full rebuild. And while they apparently won that trade — Nikola Vucevic eventually became an All-Star — they really did not get anywhere because of poor luck and planning beyond that. Orlando has been a decade hole because of their failure to handle the Howard situation.

And then finally, the Magic sold early on Nikola Vucevic after his second All-Star appearance. This time the reset their franchise with two future first-round picks (that became Franz Wagner and Jett Howard) and Wendell Carter. That has set the Magic up well for this current era with Paolo Banchero at its center.

There is a lesson in there that the Magic can draw on no matter what happens in their future. And few franchises have probably gone through the wild swings this franchise has with trades in 35 seemingly short years.