Orlando Magic's greatest teams by tier
Tier 1: Mt. Rushmore
There should be no surprise who the four teams are that make up the Orlando Magic's Mt. Rushmore. Fans can debate which era of Magic team is their favorite and which is the greatest, but there is very little debate about the paremeters of the debate.
So to keep the peace this Thanksgiving, let's just make sure we give them all their just due. There will be peace at this table.
There is no doubt about the impact the 1995 Orlando Magic team had. The duo of Shaquille O'Neal and Anfernee Hardaway blossomed before anyone expected into this unexpected trip to the NBA Finals. And really even a chance to win with homecourt advantage.
It is best that we leave what happened there to rest.
Everyone believed this was a Magic team that would be around for a long time.
They had the best young big in the league who even in his third seaosn in the league was capable of winning big games and leading a team. They had tons of shooters at a time when the league was not sure how to use the 3-point shot effectively at a high level. They had a dynamic guard that proved to be a matchup nightmare at 6-foot-7 in Anfernee Hardaway.
The 1995 Magic were a team ahead of their time both in style and in experience. And they are beloved by everyone around the league for how they took the league by storm with flair and panache.
There was a lot of carry over from the 1995 season to the 1996 season and it seemed like the Orlando Magic were destined to be the team challenging the league for titles. The Chicago Bulls came back with a vengeance with their 72-10 season and this seemed like the rivalry for the future in the league.
That would not be because of the discord that seemed to grow throughout the season. It was "Why Not Us, Why Not Now?" in 1995 but in 1996 it was everyone trying too hard to get theirs individually in a lot of ways.
Despite all of this, the Magic posted their best regular season record in team history (that still stands) even with Shaquille O'Neal missing the first 22 games with a hand injury he suffered in the preseason. That allowed Anfernee Hardaway to blossom as an individual player. But it certainly created some discord as the young Magic franchise was still learning how to handle its star players.
Nobody quite saw the 2009 Orlando Magic reaching the NBA Finals. Even the most optimistic of fans (I thought they were still one year away and a competitive second-round series was the goal).
Unlike the 1995 team, which seemed inevitable that they would reach contention (although not that soon), the 2009 Magic had no inkling of competing for a championship. They were still largely unproven against the elite teams and their run was a surprise.
That might be why the 2009 Magic are one of the most popular and beloved teams in Magic history. They came out of nowhere and had a lot of personality as they took down the defending champion Boston Celtics and the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers.
Their imperfections were what made the team so beloved. They struggled to take out the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round and trailed 3-2 in the series with the Boston Celtics. They needed big plays from Hedo Turkoglu, Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis to advance.
The underdogs are always the ones who stand out. And that is why the 2009 team is so special.
If the 2009 Orlando Magic were beloved for their imperfections, the 2010 Orlando Magic were knocked down a peg for their perfection. This was a team that solved a lot of the depth and versatility issues that may have kept the Magic from winning in 2009.
They had an incredible 33-8 run in the second half of the season and went all-in with a star trade for Vince Carter and depth acquisitions in retaining J.J. Redick and Marcin Gortat in free agency AND signing Brandon Bass in free agency.
The Magic were a juggernaut in the 2010 season. And then went out and won the first two series in the playoffs in two four-game sweeps. Where everything was hard in 2009, everything felt easy in 2010.
That might have been the problem. The margins for winning a championship are always small. It came down to a pair of Vince Carter missed free throws and a missed putback from Jameer Nelson. The Magic got beat twice at home by a tougher Boston Celtics team. But the teams were not that far apart.
This might be the best team in Magic history (I will reveal they came out on top on my rolling yearly statistical analysis, but the margin is always very close between the 1995, 2009 and 2010 teams). But no one will remember them that way because of how disappointing the season ended.