|During the 1998-99 season, the Magic did something they
haven't done since their second season - they overachieved. Most preseason predictions had
the Magic finishing near .500, fighting for one of the final playoff positions in the
Eastern Conference. Instead they finished 33-17, tied for the best record in the East,
despite shooting a team average 43%. Too bad they came back down to earth for the
The pluses this season:
Chuck Daly convinced the
Magic to play hard team defense, the team (until the playoffs) caught Darrell Armstrong fever, and they received
substantial contributions from both of the team's rookies.
Scoring and ball handling
are still BIG problems, both the center and power forward positions were unexpected
weaknesses, and late season player discord cost the Magic several winnable games.
Penny Hardaway (free agent):
Penny played in every game this season despite a late season severe wrist sprain and
averaged a team-high 38.9 minutes per game, quieting concerns about his durability. Now if
we could only get his scoring average back up to the high 20's. Part of the drop was
physical/psychological - after suffering knee problems for two seasons, Penny either no
longer has or is afraid to use the explosive jump that used to make him so dangerous. If
he doesn't develop a consistent 18' jumper to compensate, defenders will continue to focus
on taking away his post-up game, and the scoring will stay at its current level. In
addition, Penny continues to allow quicker players to take him out of his game - both on
offense, provoking far too many unnecessary turnovers, and on defense. He reacted to all
the frustration by lashing out a his teammates, the fans, the media, and team management.
That temper tantrum may have created an irreparable rift - the last player to provoke
team-owner Dick DeVos into speaking to the media was Dennis Scott. Penny has opted out of
his contract, and rumors about sign-and-trade possibilities are rife. New coach Doc Rivers
seems to be trying to heal the breach, as are Hardaway's agents, who have a gag-order on
Penny. It may work - but it may not. It's too close to call at this point.
Nick Anderson: Nick started
the season strong, carrying the team offensively through January and February, and
finished the same way, including a 40 point performance in the final game against New
Jersey. He also was the team's leading scorer in the playoffs. All this has somehow
convinced most fans and virtually all of the local media to overlook the midseason slump
that left him with a season FG percentage of 39% and a scoring average of under fifteen
points per game. Also seemingly forgotten is the fact that he was at least as much to
blame for the team discord that erupted as was Hardaway. Hardaway's tantrum and refusal to
play PG is fresh in our minds. But we can't afford to ignore Anderson9s tantrum and
refusal to play SF. Clearly, despite the apparent success of Daly9s April 3 guard line-up,
Orlando can no longer afford to assume Hardaway and Anderson will be able to coexist for
an entire season. They both are most comfortable at SG, and both want 35 minutes per game
at that position. At least one of them should be moved before training camp. If Hardaway
demands to be traded, Anderson could be back. If not, or if not enough value is offered in
return, a pre-draft trade of Anderson for a high draft pick is a distinct possibility -
Vancouver and a few other lottery teams are being mentioned as potential partners.
Darrell Armstrong: D.
Armstrong had his finest season, winning both the Most Improved and Sixth Man awards and
registering statistical highs in virtually all categories. With Bo Outlaw (assuming he can
be re-signed), Matt Harping, and (to a lesser extent) Mike Doleac, he gives the team a
coaches-dream core. We only wish Penny Hardaway and Nick Anderson had the same attitude.
Unfortunately, D. Armstrong loses effectiveness when he9s asked to play starter's minutes.
He only has one speed, and hasn9t shown any signs of learning how to pace himself. In
addition, turnovers continue to be a problem. He is a tremendous sixth man; we hope he can
return to that role next season.
Ike Austin: The Magic hoped
they were signing the Miami Heat version of Austin. What they got was an out-of-shape
nice-guy. At least he wasn't locker room poison, so he's an improvement over Seikaly. If
he dedicates himself in the gym this summer, and if Rivers can find away to wake up his
mean streak, then Austin could be a real asset. If not, his contract only runs two more
Horace Grant: He's still the
best team defender in Orlando and has turned into a locker room leader for the team, but
there is no denying that he is beginning to feel the years. He suffered his first season
averaging less than 10 points per game and shot a career low 43% (in part due to a injured
pinky on his shooting hand). He reportedly is considering retiring at the end of the
upcoming season, leaving one year before the expiration of his current contract, so we
would not be surprised to see him moved as part of a rebuilding effort. The best position
for Grant would be on a team like Portland, close to contending for a title but needing a
little more veteran leadership and with a deep bench of 4/59s.
Matt Harpring: Harpring
surprised a lot a people this season (but not those of us whose memories stretch back to
his pre-foot-injury days at Georgia Tech). His hard-nosed, never back-down style earned
him respect from players and even from the refs, and led to a spot on the first team
All-Rookie squad. Most encouragingly, on this offense-starved team, he has a reliable
jump-shot, shooting 46% (and 40% from three-point territory) for the season. He started 22
games this season, and, after a summer of hard work and a full training camp, we fully
expect him to be the starting SF next season.
Bo Outlaw (free agent): Last
year we wrote: "He loves defense, lives for floor burns, and thrives on rebounding.
And he even proved he could provide some scoring when necessary. Win or lose, his
intensity makes him a joy to watch." It's still true, and we hope we see him back in
Orlando next season. We know the team wants him back, but we're not sure how the new CBA
will affect what they can offer him vs. what he might get on from another team (he's
coming off a two-year contract). The emergence of Matt Harpring should mean that Bo can
return to his hound role, providing time off the bench at SF, PF and possibly even C.
Michael Doleac: Doleac was
another pleasant draft surprise. He won't ever be a dominant center, but he's already a
decent back-up and has the talent and the work ethic to become an adequate starter. He
earned a spot on the second-team All Rookie squad. He's a player that thrives on coaching,
so rookie-free-agent camp, summer league play, and a full training camp should help him
Derek Strong: We're not sure
what went wrong with Strong this season, but we're afraid it might be that he felt
slighted by the contract offer he ended up signing. He came into camp late, and out of
shape, which certainly didn9t help. Neither did his early foot injury. Now that he's
signed his new contract, we hope his old work habits return. However, he probably is being
Dominique Wilkins: The Magic
waived D. Wilkins on June 14.
B. J. Armstrong (free
agent): B.J. Armstrong may have a year or two left as an adequate back-up in the league.
The Magic however have enough back-up PG talent without him. What they really need is a
starting quality PG. We expect either Miles Simon or B.J. Armstrong to return next season,
but not both.
Danny Schayes (free-agent):
Each season we predict Schayes will retire, and each season he keeps returning. If nothing
else, he is probably the best possible tutor for Doleac - having the same types of skills
and the same game. So, this year we'll change, and predict another one year, league
Gerald Wilkins: We know the
Magic feel honor bound to reward players who sacrifice for them. We just can9t see any way
that G. Wilkins sacrificed as much as $7M over three years. The Magic waived Gerald on
Miles Simon (free agent):
The Magic hope he can learn to play back-up PG. He definitely has the athleticism to
succeed. If he works hard on his fundamentals during the rookie/free agent camp and plays
in as many summer leagues as he can, it could happen. But, he's got to really put forth
the effort, or he'll get left in the dust.
Jonathan Kerner (free
agent): Kerner reportedly is a good practice horse, with a excellent practice habits. He
earned his spot on the roster this season through hard work. We think we'll see him back
next year in the same role.
We like the selection of Doc
Rivers as head coach. No one questions his work ethic, his
knowledge of the game, or his ability to motivate players. The probable addition of Dave
Wohl as top assistant, as well as the availability of Daly as a consultant, should
mitigate his lack of actual coaching experience. John Gabriel deservedly got a few votes for Executive of the Year, based on Orlando's
strong draft. The signing of Ike Austin was a reasonable gamble, especially given that he
only got a three year contract. Re-signing Gerald Wilkins was probably Gabe's biggest
The Magic need help in three areas: a third scorer to go
with Hardaway/Anderson and the developing Harpring, a starting PG to relieve DArmstrong,
and youthful, aggressive help at either PF or C. There are a number of reports indicating
that the Magic are trying to make a deal to acquire one of the top five draft picks this
year to address PG. We think that they are will look to address the PF/C weakness through
a trade involving Horace Grant.