Into the Orlando Magic-verse: Top 5 What-If’s in Orlando Magic History

The Orlando Magic have been to the NBA Finals twice in their franchise history and have made plenty of playoff memories and heartaches along the way. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic have been to the NBA Finals twice in their franchise history and have made plenty of playoff memories and heartaches along the way. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /
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Chris Webber, Washington Bullets
Chris Webber was the surefire No. 1 pick in the 1993 NBA Draft. But he was not the Orlando Magic’s choice. Mandatory Credit: Andy Lyons /Allsport /

Top 5 what-if’s in Orlando Magic history

What if the Magic kept Chris Webber?

What happened?

One year after drafting one of the most coveted prospects the NBA has ever seen in Shaquille O’Neal, the Orlando Magic were once again in a position of power for the 1993 NBA Draft.

On Lottery night, the Magic only had a 1 in 66 chance of their ping pong ball coming out of the hopper. Yet it defied the odds to land them the top spot in a second consecutive draft. The only question that remained was: Who should they take?

Chris Webber from Michigan’s Fab 5 team was widely considered the best player in the draft and a slam dunk to be the number one overall pick. But questions arose from many, including O’Neal himself, on how his game would fit alongside the Magic’s best player.

Despite O’Neal’s concerns and his pleas to draft fellow Blue Chips movie co-star Memphis State’s Anfernee Hardaway, the Magic drafted Chris Webber with the first overall pick and he was headed for Orlando. Until he was not.

With the third pick in the 1993 Draft, the Golden State Warriors took Hardaway and shipped him along with three future first-round picks to Orlando for Webber. The Magic appeased O’Neal and from there the rest is history.

Penny and Shaq would go on to become the most iconic duo the Magic franchise has ever seen but sadly fall short of winning an NBA Finals for Orlando.

What could have gone differently?

What if the Orlando Magic did not trade Chris Webber on Draft night? Deciding instead to pair the two similar players despite the obvious risk that came with it.

There are a couple of ways this could have gone. One is Shaquille O’Neal could have taken this as a personal slight from management. In the 30 for 30 documentary “This Magic Moment,” Shaquille O’Neal directly states he hand-picked Anfernee Hardaway as the guy he wanted to play with in Orlando.

It is conceivable to think forcing him to play with the player he was most concerned about meshing with on the court could have upset him. And it is possible the Magic would ultimately have had to choose which big man to keep happy and trade Webber anyway.

Chris Webber for his part was disgruntled in Golden State under Don Nelson and was dealt to the Washington Bullets one season later for a starter in Tom Gugliotta and three future first-round picks (including returning two of the picks they dealt to the Orlando Magic).

Maybe the Magic would not have gotten that much in return with Webber not playing the same starring role he played as a rookie in Golden State.

But What if they DID gel? What if O’Neal and Webber were the twin towers and dominated an era of basketball where big men had their highest value?

Shaq was such a dominant force in basketball history that it feels like a cold take to say he could have won a championship anywhere if he had the right pieces around him. And while Webber was not O’Neal, he was a force in his own right averaging 20.7 points and 9.8 rebounds a game throughout his pro career. He also averaged more than 1.0 block and 4.0 assists per game, proving he could affect the game without the ball in his hands.

Additionally, he played a lot of power forward during his NBA career and could have slid nicely next to O’Neal at center despite the initial concerns.

The twin towers roster would not have had the assets they received from trading Webber — but it is fun to think about what a defensive problem the two could have been together and how the NBA would have had to adapt when facing them.

Final prediction:

Contending for Eastern Conference Finals (much like the Orlando Magic did with Anfernee Hardaway) would have taken a few personnel moves from management — but the pitch of playing with two of the league’s best big men likely would have been enticing to many and easy to manifest.

The Magic would have found the right guard to complement Shaquille O’Neal and Chris Webber while also successfully defining each of their roles.

However, seeing how things played out with O’Neal and Hardaway, it is likely this team would have faced a similar crossroads. The inner turmoil would probably have risen to a place of relevance much sooner as O’Neal specifically told management he did not want to play with Webber.

Webber himself proved to struggle to find a home moving from Golden State to Washington within a year and Washington to Sacramento within another four seasons.

Even if they did not, the Magic probably still make the same financial decisions that cost them O’Neal in our version of history with salaries set to dramatically increase in the summer of 1996.

Webber and O’Neal certainly could have been a fun “what if?” story in their own right. But for Magic fans this is not the one to lose sleep over. The pairing likely would not have accounted for any championships — effectively being a less entertaining ride than the Shaq and Penny one was. And ending in a similarly disappointing destination.