The Orlando Magic’s interregnum era between its two trips to the NBA Finals in 1995 and 2009 was filled with . . . well, it was filled with disappointment.
It was not that there were no good memories during that time. Tracy McGrady became one of the most gifted scorers in team history. He was an All-Star in all four years he spent with the Magic and led them to three playoff appearances. He was second in MVP voting one year and was a fixture in the larger NBA story.
It was just filled with missed potential. Three first-round playoff exits kept McGrady from ascending to the top of the NBA — he was still All-NBA despite the Magic’s middling record showing how good he was at the time.
Then came blowing a 3-1 series lead in the first round and the great bottoming out in the 2004 season. The team was constantly waiting for Grant Hill to stay healthy and give the team the 1-2 punch it signed up for in the summer of 2000.
Tracy McGrady gave Orlando Magic fans some of the best individual memories of franchise history. The team around him was a frustrating mess for his four years.
With Hill and McGrady’s max contracts weighing the franchise down, Orlando had to shuffle through veteran players over and over again. The decisions the team made to fill out the roster — and the draft picks the team constantly missed on in the process (or flat out gave up on too quickly) — only made things worse.
McGrady is undoubtedly one of the four best players in Magic history. McGrady averaged 28.1 points per game, 7.0 rebounds per game and 5.2 assists per game in fours seasons with the Magic.
He earned his way to the Hall of Fame and his time with the Magic was a big part of that. But the team never experienced any real measure of success.
The four years McGrady was in Orlando felt lost not because McGrady was never brilliant but because the Magic never put their ducks in a row.
Ultimately, McGrady forced his way out.
Frustrated with the team bottoming out with a 21-61 season in 2004, disgruntled with general manager Jon Weisbrod and impatient to wait on the top overall pick — in his worst piece of general managing, Tracy McGrady made it clear he wanted the team to take college star Emeka Okafor over raw high schooler Dwight Howard — McGrady asked and received a trade to the Houston Rockets.
Orlando did not have to wait as long to rebuild, opting to still field a competitive team in Howard’s early years as he developed into his own Hall of Fame career.
The best way then to tell the story of the McGrady era is through the starters he had to play with. It is the best way to illustrate how bereft of talent these teams were, and probably describe how good McGrady was in his time with the Magic.