Penny Hardaway Will Remain Memphis Head Coach After Interviewing with Magic

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistJune 30, 2021

Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway instructs his team in the second half of an NCAA college basketball championship game against Mississippi State in the NIT, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Frisco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

Anfernee Hardaway will be remaining at Memphis and will not take the Orlando Magic's vacant head-coaching position, according to multiple reports.

Shams Charania @ShamsCharania

Penny Hardaway announces he will remain head coach at Memphis. https://t.co/uLhsY9h6qp

Jeff Goodman @GoodmanHoops

Just got off the phone with Memphis coach Penny Hardaway — who told me he is staying with the Tigers. “I couldn’t step away from what I started. One day it would be a dream to coach in the NBA, and the Orlando Magic, but we still unfinished business at Memphis.”

Hardaway would have represented a connection to the Magic's golden era. Orlando reached the 1995 NBA Finals and appeared to be a budding dynasty until Shaquille O'Neal left for the Los Angeles Lakers ahead of the 1996-97 season.

Following a lengthy playing career, the 49-year-old went into coaching and climbed up the ladder to return to his alma mater, Memphis, in 2018. The Tigers have gone 63-32 in his three seasons at the helm.

The Magic finished the 2020-21 season with the NBA's third-worst record (21-51), which was a far cry from reaching the playoffs in the previous two years. But the front office signaled the start of a rebuild in March by trading away Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic.

The moves altogether weren't surprising. Fournier was in the final year of his contract, and Gordon's value as a trade asset was never going to be higher since he's a free agent in 2022. While he was moved before Gordon, Vucevic was out the door with the front office's priorities shifting.

Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn

Here's the deal: The Bulls land Nikola Vucevic and Al Farouq Aminu for Otto Porter, Wendell Carter Jr., and two first-round picks. Huge addition for Chicago, who remains in pursuit of Lonzo Ball. The Magic are moving toward a rebuild now with Aaron Gordon deal on deck.

In general, Orlando had been stuck on the proverbial treadmill of mediocrity.

The franchise enjoyed a stroke of good fortune when it received the No. 1 overall pick in the 1993 NBA draft lottery for the second straight year, which led the league to tweak the lottery format. The draft gods enacted their vengeance across the 2010s as the Magic were adjusting to the post-Dwight Howard era.

They made the playoffs in 2011-12 and then endured a six-year postseason drought. Here's where they finished in the league and where they fell in the draft lottery during that time.

  • 2012-13: 30th (20-62); No. 2 overall (Victor Oladipo)
  • 2013-14: 28th (23-59); No. 4 overall (Aaron Gordon)
  • 2014-15: 26th (25-57); No. 5 overall (Mario Hezonja)
  • 2015-16: 20th (35-47); No. 11 overall (Domantas Sabonis)
  • 2016-17: 26th (29-53); No. 6 overall (Jonathan Isaac)
  • 2017-18: 26th (25-57); No. 6 overall (Mo Bamba)

Taking Mario Hezonja was a mistake in 2015, but Orlando wasn't the only team that failed to see the potential in Devin Booker, who was off the board at No. 13. Trading Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Serge Ibaka was pretty bad as well.

The Magic also managed to fleece the Milwaukee Bucks when they acquired Tobias Harris in February 2013 and then found themselves fleeced when they dealt him to the Detroit Pistons three years later for Ersan İlyasova and Brandon Jennings.

There were undoubtedly some big missteps when Rob Hennigan worked as the general manager.

Even if you were to undo the Ibaka and Harris trades, you still wind up with the same problem in Orlando, though. The organization's luck in the lottery—or lack thereof—left it without a true franchise cornerstone.

Gordon epitomized the problem. While the 6'8" forward is the kind of player who can meaningfully contribute to a championship contender, he's not somebody you build the entire team around. Fans eagerly awaited a breakout that never arrived.

The same thing applied to Fournier, who averaged 12.6 points and shot 34.9 percent from the field during the Magic's back-to-back playoff runs.

Hitting the reset button was the only sensible option for general manager John Hammond.

One benefit of taking this job now for whoever becomes the next head coach is that he or she should be afforded plenty of time.

A young core of Jonathan Isaac, Mo Bamba, Wendell Carter Jr., Cole Anthony, R.J. Hampton, Chuma Okeke and Markelle Fultz creates some intrigue but doesn't generate a ton of optimism yet. Isaac and Fultz in particular are big question marks as they're coming off torn ACLs.

The Brooklyn Nets are a prime example of how the right coach can drastically change a team's outlook. Kenny Atkinson took over a roster almost totally bereft of long-term assets in 2016-17. Two years later, they were in the playoffs.

Player development will be the primary object right out of the gate.