Yesterday, John Hollinger of ESPN.com revealed his system for ranking every NBA franchise from best to worst in history. Here's how he went about ordering the teams ...
... and here's what Hollinger had to say about the Orlando Magic.
Orlando tends to see itself as a star-crossed franchise, and you could certainly make an argument for that. From Nick Anderson's four missed free throws in the 1995 Finals; to Shaquille O'Neal's shady free-agent departure; to the injury woes of Penny Hardaway and Grant Hill; to the bizarre Hockey Guy years; to, perhaps, the missed layup by Courtney Lee in Game 2 of the 2009 Finals, a common thread does seem to run through most of the franchise's history.
But to focus on that is to ignore the biggest story: The Magic have been the most consistently successful of the league's early-'90s expansion teams, and have done it while showcasing several of the game's biggest stars. Shaq, Penny, Tracy McGrady and Dwight Howard would be all-timers in most franchise's pantheons; Magic fans saw all four in a span of a dozen years.
Orlando won 31 games in its second season, was at .500 in its fourth thanks to Shaq, and was in the Finals by Year 6. That was when Anderson's four misses in the final seconds of Game 1 against Houston blew a game in which they had led by 22 points; the Magic never recovered, losing in four. What appeared to be a budding dynasty fizzled when Shaq fled for L.A. two years later and Penny's knees started troubling him, and as a result the Magic didn't get past the first round of the playoffs again until 2008.
They still won, though. Orlando has won at least 36 games in 16 of the past 17 years, and even managed to be decent when "Hockey Guy" John Weisbrod was mangling the roster with deals like trading McGrady for Steve Francis. And with the current edition in the Finals, Orlando seems well poised to move several rungs up the NBA franchise ladder in the near future.
I thought the ranking was fair. Middle-of-the-pack is where I would have placed the Orlando Magic, as well. Having followed the franchise since its inception, I consider myself blessed to experience the numerous peaks and valleys of the team.
Think about it. In 20 years, the Magic have had two franchise centers (Dwight Howard, Shaquille O'Neal), two exciting but troublesome wing players (Penny Hardaway, Tracy McGrady), a fallen superstar (Grant Hill), and more. Who can forget Orlando's first-ever draft pick Nick Anderson, most infamous for The Steal and The Four Missed Free Throws. Who can forget the 'Heart and Hustle' group, led by Darrell Armstrong, Bo Outlaw, and others. Who can forget the plethora of draft picks gone wrong, like Johnny Taylor, Jerryl Sasser, Steven Hunter, and others.
From hitting the jackpot thrice to playing in the NBA Finals twice, it's been a fun and interesting ride for the Magic the past two decades. Usually, you have to experience failure before success in anything you do. Not the case with Orlando, who got to experience success early and often in the early-to-mid 90's, leading people to believe it could be too good to be true. Winning the NBA Draft lottery in back-to-back years? Playing in the NBA Finals during the franchise's sixth year in the league? It almost felt like people took things for granted. Who could blame them?
Good fortune seemed to have a permanent residence in the City Beautiful.
Then fate came to pay the city a visit.
Shaq and Penny left. Goodbye dynasty. Hello mediocrity. Credit former general manager John Gabriel for trying to "reboot" the team, shrewdly maneuvering the Magic roster to clear space for Tim Duncan, Tracy McGrady, and Grant Hill. Of course, Orlando could only have two of the three free agents and we all know the story there. Duncan stayed in San Antonio. McGrady came and Hill limped in. Talks of a dynasty being reborn were replaced quickly with talks of a franchise in despair. Things got so bad that the Magic were threatened with the possibility of being sold and moved to another city, Kansas City being the main threat to the franchise.
And then something happened. Orlando struck gold, again.
Dwight Howard happened. Jameer Nelson happened. Slowly but surely, the Magic were in the process of reinventing itself to be better, bigger, bolder. Then Billy Donovan happened. It seemed the process was ending before it was beginning. The process of regaining glory. The process of restoring order to the city. The process of bringing back Orlando to the forefront of the basketball world. It was all being compromised. Then something funny happened. Good fortune paid a visit again, in the body and name of Stan Van Gundy. An outcast, of sorts, from Miami.
Then he went to work. Told Dwight Howard to defend and rebound. Placed Rashard Lewis at power forward and demanded he spaced the floor. Put Hedo Turkoglu at small forward and gave him free reign with the basketball to create for himself and for others. Played Russian Roulette at shooting guard, using Keith Bogans, Maurice Evans, Mickael Pietrus, and Courtney Lee at that spot. Oversaw the development of a point guard evolve from a role player into an All-Star, Jameer Nelson. Let a Polish Hammer, Marcin Gortat, start as a worthless bench player to finish as a valuable role player (and possibly a starter elsewhere in the Association). Two years. Two division titles. One conference title and the sky's the limit with the Magic franchise.
All in all, that's one doozy of a quick look at a franchise 20 years old.
What does the community think about the ranking? Fair? Unfair?
Let your thoughts be known in the comments section below.