It was about 13 years ago. The NBA was locked out and players like Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing were twiddling their thumbs wondering what lied ahead in their futures. Michael Jordan, of course, opted out of his career for a short period of time before returning to play for the Washington Wizards in the 2000 season.
There were a few other key things that went on during and after the lockout of the '98-99 season. The Orlando Magic organization was left to bear the brunt of some very dramatic self-imposed personnel changes. With this year’s lockout already set and established, I cannot help but to revert back to what took place in the eerie rebuilding days of the franchise.
Orlando finished 33-17, which, if the lockout had not occurred, gives a pretty clear picture of what the team could have achieved with a full season. Even with a seemingly bright future ahead of them, briefly plagued with a first-round exit in the playoffs by the Sixers, Penny Hardaway, Horace Grant and Nick Anderson were dealt all within a short time span after the lockout-shortened season ended.
From 2000-2004, which become known as the "T-Mac Era" for Orlando, Tracy McGrady, Grant Hill and Mike Miller all landed with the franchise and people seemed satisfied that a turnaround was in place for the team. Everyone loved their chances of making it far, but in the years that McGrady reigned supreme, the team still never managed to accomplish anything more than a couple of barely above-.500 seasons.
Thirteen years later, Orlando is faced with another big decision to make. When the season is over, if it ever begins, they are standing toe-to-toe with the idea that Dwight Howard may no longer be an Orlando Magic player. They could once again have to deal with the repercussions of losing another perennial athlete wearing their jersey.
Although the loss of Hardaway was front-office facilitated, Orlando must figure out whether they must rattle Howard’s cage with a trade as soon as collective bargaining rules are established, or if they should put the fate of their 2012 season in the hands of the franchise’s leading man.
Will the moves they make when the lockout is over define them with a much better Eastern Conference standing? Or will they look back wondering if they could have avoided a season like the embarrassing 21-61 end in 2004?