Orlando Magic's greatest teams by tier
Tier 5: Getting Closer
The Orlando Magic have missed the playoffs with a .500 record or better just twice in franchise history. That would be Shaquille O'Neal's rookie season on the fourth tiebreaker. And then there is Chuck Daly's first year with the Magic in 1998 in an injury-filled forgettable season.
Anfernee Hardaway played only 19 games as the knee and ankle issues began to take over his career. Rony Seikaly played only 47 games as the Magic began to rearrange the team and seek a new direction in the years after Shaquille O'Neal.
Orlando was still chasing a spotlight and finding it hard to achieve.
Of any team that missed the Playoffs in Orlando Magic history, no team engenders as much as joy and appreciation as the 2000 Heart & Hustle team. This group created one of the most magical seasons (pun intended) in franchise history. Everyone still talks glowingly about this team.
The Magic were predicted at the beginning of the season to win fewer than 20 games. Yet they became an energetic defensive group that came within two games of making the playoffs. They are the model for everything Magic fans want to see from their team.
The first year after trading Tracy McGrady was both exciting and promising and still somehow deeply disappointing. The Magic had all the excitement of adding the first overall pick in Dwight Howard and everything he could be. They also were determined not to rebuild fully, bringing in an All-Star in Steve Francis to replace Tracy McGrady.
The results were . . . mixed.
A 36-46 record and missing the playoffs were still in the cards. It was both encouraging for how much potential the team had -- including Jameer Nelson finding his role off the bench and pushing for more playing time. But also discouraging because late season injuries derailed the journey.
So too did the decision to trade Steve Francis' best friend in Cuttino Mobley for a disgruntled and frustrated Doug Christie, going from a title contender with the Sacramento Kings to a middling team in the Orlando Magic. Things never clicked.
That is probably the best way to describe the Magic of that season. It just did not click for all the exciting moments the team had in the process.
The 2005 Orlando Magic went 36-46 and it felt like a disappointment. The 2006 Magic went 36-46 and it felt like a triumph.
That is the difference between a more veteran team falling short of expectations and a young team seemingly on the rise. This 2006 season saw the Magic hand the reigns over to young players like Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson (with Grant Hill providing a steady beat when he could on the floor). The team traded the disgruntled Steve Francis. They made this about the youth movement.
And Orlando paid it off. The Magic put together a stellar 16-6 run to close the season. That took the team from 20-40 and out of the playoff race to one of the last teams eliminated from playoff contention -- losing out on the playoffs before their penultimate game.
This run to end the season was proof that their young players were taking the key steps forward. Howard and Nelson were ready to take on a larger share as the team prepared to make the playoffs and start a long run.
The 2016 Orlando Magic were the closest the team got to the Playoffs during the Rob Hennigan era. Yet, it was still marked by how dysfunctional the team was.
Scott Skiles helped build the team to a 19-13 record. But then things completely fell apart with a terrible January record and reports Skiles wanted to quit the team (he eventually would resign suddenly just before the NBA Draft Lottery).
The Magic made matters worse by making a panic trade of Tobias Harris for Brandon Jennings -- essentially for cap room. It was a season full of promise that crashed and burned.
Frank Vogel's final season with the Orlando Magic did not have anything too notable happen. The team played some solid defense but not solid enough to be elite. They were poor offensively. It was a team that was spinning its wheels and not clear what direction it was headed.
Not even new executive Jeff Weltman could really do much to change things immediately, opting to evaluate the roster and see where the team could improve. This group was better than its record and showed Nikola Vucevic could reach another level.
The 2023 Orlando Magic was a special and fun season. The kind of season that makes everyone believe the team is set for something special but is clearly not quite ready.
The team will tell everyone it was a Playoff team if not for a disappointing and injury-filled 5-20 start to the season. As history moves on and we see what this season sprouts, we may view this team as much more significant and important (honestly, I am fudging my rankings some because newcomers to the rankings tend to get underranked with how I run my ongoing ranking system).
Paolo Banchero clearly looked like a budding superstar in his rookie season. Franz Wagner continued to develop. And Orlando started to carve a defensive identity in the final games of the season. Going 29-28 in the final 57 games was a victory.
Clearly that momentum has paid off.