In 2010 the Miami Heat made a blockbuster deal that captivated the collective minds of basketball fans around the world, signing LeBron James and Chris Bosh in free agency.
The big-three of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh was destined for success, and they certainly didn’t disappoint. But, in the summer of 2000, the Orlando Magic had even loftier expectations.
The Orlando Magic suffered heartbreak after heartbreak in the 90’s, beginning with a 4-0 sweep in the ‘95 Finals at the hands of the Hakeem Rockets. Then a 4-0 sweep in the ECF against the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls.
Then just as fast as their young stars had emerged, the magic was gone. Shaq took his talents to Los Angeles, and then early in the 1997-98 Penny suffered a devastating knee injury.
The Magic decided to hit the reboot button and start over from scratch. After Chuck Daly’s retirement in ‘99, Orlando hired rookie coach Doc Rivers, who went on to win coach of the year in 2000.
Then the summer of 2000 came, and Orlando had one goal in mind-- sign free agents Tim Duncan, Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady. Pretty lofty goals right?
Here’s some background. Grant was an incredibly skilled small forward who spent his first 6 years in Detroit, a franchise struggling for relevance and unable to surround Hill with the proper parts.
Despite that he flourished, able to rebound, run the break, or score on even the best defenders. Think LeBron before LeBron. T-Mac was a promising young talent, drafted straight out of high school by Isiah Thomas in Toronto.
Sadly, playing alongside his cousin Vince (Carter) began to take a toll on his their personal relationship, so he decided to test the waters in free agency. Lastly, there was Timmy.
Orlando Magic: Waiting For Tim Duncan
Already battle tested, Tim led his Spurs to the ‘99 championship alongside his mentor David Robinson. But, due to older veterans the team had lost its step in 2000.
So, in an uncharacteristically “Duncan” move, he too decided to test the waters in free agency. Namely, because Orlando’s intentions were made clear, and the proposition of playing with Hill and McGrady looked too good to pass up.
Orlando’s first move was trading Ben Wallace and Chucky Atkins to Detroit for Grant Hill, who believed the trade would give him a more lucrative contract than just signing as a free agent.
Meanwhile, Duncan struggled to make his final decision. And, deservingly so.
"I came close to leaving," said Duncan. How close? "Real close."
He was already an NBA champion with the Spurs, and the team was by no stretch of the imagination bad. In the end, thanks to some timely convincing by the Admiral, Duncan stayed in San Antonio.
So, Orlando turned their sights to Tracy McGrady, who despite interest from other teams, decided to sign with the Magic.
“Orlando had a lot to offer,” Duncan told a packed news conference at a San Antonio hotel. “I had a good time and I met some great people down there, but I decided to stay here and keep going for another championship.”
In the end, the fruit’s of Orlando’s labor proved to be minimal. Yes, McGrady developed into a dynamite scorer, but Grant Hill’s ankle sprain in the 2000 playoffs had progressed to debilitating levels, derailing what was nothing short of a promising career.
Meanwhile, Duncan still plays with the San Antonio Spurs all these years later, adding four championships to his resume, solidifying himself as arguably the great power forward to ever lace em’ up.
Even without Hill, though, could you imagine a duo of T-Mac and Duncan, coached by Doc Rivers? In McGrady’s four years in Orlando, he averaged 28 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists, leading the league in scoring twice. Recently, Kobe even admitted that McGrady was the toughest player he ever had to check.
For Duncan, those four years were truly the peak of his career, winning an MVP in 2002, then taking home the MVP, championship and Finals MVP in 2003. Combine the talents of those two with Doc Rivers, and that’s a pretty great roster for what was(still is) a weak Eastern Conference.
Heck, let’s take a step back. Nix the Grant Hill trade with Detroit and imagine the Magic keep Ben Wallace. The same Ben Wallace who won 4 awards - Defensive Player of the Year. Now that’s a scary idea.
Sadly, just like the Orlando Magic of the 90’s, it’s only a “what-if”. Destined to be talked about amongst fans for years to come, but never realized.