Orlando Magic's greatest teams by tier
Tier 4: Playoff Teams, Group 1
The first year without Shaquille O'Neal was one of growing pains for a team suddenly toppled from championship contention. The Magic definitely missed O'Neal, as any team would missing such an elite and important player.
Anfernee Hardaway stepped up and proved he was not just living in Shaquille O'Neal's shadow. He averaged 20.5 points per game. He then turned in one of the best playoff series performances in Magic history, averaging 31.0 points per game in the five-game series with the Miami Heat. That included 42 and 43-point performances to stave off elimination at the Orlando Arena.
The season was not without turmoil though. The players led a revolt that ousted coach Brian Hill with a vote of no confidence. And the franchise looked to an uncertain future even with Hardaway leading the way.
The lockout-shortened 1999 season was weird for everyone. Players showed up out of shape and the 50-game season was congested which meant everything was a sprint. The Magic actually tied for the top seed in the Eastern Conference with the Miami Heat (who also lost in the first round) and the Indiana Pacers.
Nick Anderson and Anfernee Hardaway had one last strong season in a Magic uniform before the team decided to fully reset and restart the team. It was a great regular season even if the whole year was weird -- do not look at the offensive numbers.
The first round though was again a disaster as the disconnect between Anfernee Hardaway and coach Chuck Daly became ever clearer. Allen Iverson was a star on the rise and the Magic were a team in decline.
The Orlando Magic returned to the playoffs after their big free-agent spending spree in the summer of 2000. The team missed out on Tim Duncan and Grant Hill played only four games in his first year (John Gabriel still won Executive of the Year for winning in July), but Tracy McGrady proved to be a bona fide star right from the tip.
McGrady, a promising young bench player and eventual starter with the Toronto Raptors coming off a strong playoff debut, became a superstar immediately in Orlando. McGrady averaged 26.8 points per game, 7.5 rebounds per game and 4.6 assists per game. This was a star player and the Magic did not have to rebuild long.
The Orlando Magic reached the playoffs this season, falling in four games to the Milwaukee Bucks. But that series included an incredible overtime performance in Game 3 from McGrady to stave off elimination and cement his stardom.
Tracy McGrady probably wishes he could take back saying the Orlando Magic had advanced out of the first round after taking a 3-1 series lead in Game 4 of the team's first-round series with a young Detroit Pistons team. The 8-seed with a 3-1 lead in the first year of a best-of-seven first round felt like a real upset. Magic fans know what happened next.
The burden on McGrady was very real throughout that playoff series -- as was how incredible McGrady was during that series with 31.7 points per game, 6.7 rebounds per game and 4.7 assists per game. The burden on him as a player was also very real. The Magic just could not give him any help.
This was the bottom for Orlando and, eventually, the whole project would fall apart as McGrady was incapable of carrying the team on his own. And certainly the Magic needed the help that Grant Hill was unable to provide thanks to his injuries.
The Orlando Magic will tell everyone they were set to turn the corner when the league shut itself down for the COVID-19 pandemic. They came back from a big road win against the Memphis Grizzlies to look forward to a big homestand to try to replicate the run late in the 2019 season. Then the league shut down.
Orlando was a playoff team again no doubt. Injuries slowed them down and hit the team's record hard. But the Magic were locked into the 8-seed when the season reopened in the Bubble at Disney.
The Magic never quite got their footing back from that part of the season. Injuries hit the team in the Bubble too -- particularly an injury to Aaron Gordon in a game against the Toronto Raptors and, of course, the devastating knee injury to Jonathan Isaac.