Not too long ago the Orlando Magic was in the playoff contention. More than a decade earlier, the Magic were contending for the title. As a matter of fact they made it all the way to the Finals but fell against the Lakers. Let’s see look at their trajectory since then.
The Orlando Magic was a team formed in 1989. It is a relatively new team but had their fair share of star players. In the 1992 off season, they hit the jackpot when they drafted Shaquille O’Neal as the number 1 pick of the draft. Shaq made an immediate impact as soon as he arrived in the Magic to make himself known in the NBA as the most dominant center.
They further added Anfernee ‘Penny’ Hardaway from the Golden State Warriors in exchange for Chris Webber whom they had drafted. The duo of Hardaway and Shaq was looked at like the duo who would shake things up. When Jordan announced his first retirement after winning the 1993 title, the Magic were favorites to win it all.
In 1995 playoffs, they did the unthinkable and beat Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals making all the way to the Finals. They somehow fell short in the Finals against the Houston Rockets who absolutely swept them.
The ceiling was high and it was expected that they would make it all the way to the Finals again. But the Bulls stopped them in their tracks and Shaq felt the need to go on a different direction as he saw that the team was favoring Penny. In the 1996 off-season, Shaq got traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for some picks.
Then Penny became the main leading scorer of the Magic and they made the playoffs but always they bounced out of the 1st round. The Magic dismantled the team and decided to go on a different direction. Hence they took in Tracy McGrady from the Raptors in order to put a new spark.
Under the Magic, McGrady was blossoming like the superstar everyone hoped he would be. He became a scoring machine going toe-to-toe against even Kobe Bryant to edge out and win the scoring title. Together with Grant Hill it was thought that they would be the new champions from the East. But injuries, nerves and bad luck wouldn’t let them get out of the first round. Hence they dismantled the team as they drafted Dwight Howard.
The Sky was the limit
When Dwight Howard was first in the Orlando Magic everyone was skeptical of his performance. But he bloomed into a player really early. Being hopeful of his growth, the Magic put pieces around him with players like Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson and JJ Redick. They even brought in Steve Van Gundy whose coaching skills were considered top-notch. In the 2009 playoffs, the Magic defied all odds and reached all the way to the NBA Finals. They however, fell to the Lakers in 5 games. But the future was bright.
But then the friction between the Magic’s coach Van Gundy and Dwight caused tension in the locker room. They cussed each other out in the media and ultimately the Dwight era came to an end as he was traded to the Lakers.
The Magic in need of some magic
Since then, the Magic has not returned to their previous glory. Despite having reliable players like Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon, it was clear that they needed a superstar like Shaq. They made the playoffs twice since Howard got traded but never came out of the 1st round.
In the 2022 Draft, it seems like the Magic has hit the jackpot again by selecting Paolo Banchero. They have a young roster filled with promise. If Banchero develops into a Shaq-like player then the Magic should do whatever they can to develop the remaining pieces and build around him. They have come close to winning it all twice in their Franchise history but they always fell short. This time they need to strategize well, get good pieces around Banchero and get a reliable head coach to win it all in the coming season.