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NBA Playoffs Past: Orlando Magic, the Dynasty That Never Was

Clint FeuerbachContributor IIIApril 22, 2011

8 May 2001:  Shaquille O''Neal #34 of the Los Angeles Lakers makes a slam dunk during round two of the NBA Western Conference Playoff Game against the Sacramento Kings at the STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers defeated the Kings 96-90.    NOTE TO USER: It is expressly understood that the only rights Allsport are offering to license in this Photograph are one-time, non-exclusive editorial rights. No advertising or commercial uses of any kind may be made of Allsport photos. User acknowledges that it is aware that Allsport is an editorial sports agency and that NO RELEASES OF ANY TYPE ARE OBTAINED from the subjects contained in the photographs.Mandatory Credit: Jed Jacobsohn  /Allsport
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

The Orlando Magic were one of four expansion teams to enter the NBA in the late 1980s along with the Miami Heat, Charlotte Hornets and the Minnesota Timberwolves

The Magic struggled through several disappointing seasons in their early livelihood before winning the No. 1 overall pick in the draft lottery in 1992.  The Magic used that pick to select the uniquely talented big man from LSU—Shaquille O’Neal.

Shaq won the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award and was named an NBA All-Star in that rookie season, compiling an impressive stat line that saw him average 23.4 points and 13.9 rebounds while helping the Magic improve by 20 wins to post their best season in franchise history going 41-41 in the 1992-93 season.

Despite the 20-game improvement, the Magic narrowly missed making the playoffs by a tiebreaker to the Indiana Pacers.

This disappointment quickly turned to elation as the Magic, for the second consecutive year, won the NBA’s No. 1 pick in the 1993 draft lottery.

This is where it gets interesting.  Already having a dominant big man in Shaquille O’Neal, the Magic elected to pick Michigan forward Chris Webber.

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The pundits were initially split after the Magic selection—many arguing the Magic would now potentially comprise the most dominant frontline in NBA history, while others stated that the Magic needed a point guard to replace the adequate, but very average, Scott Skiles.

The Magic elected to immediately trade Webber for the versatile guard Penny Hardaway. 

Three years later, despite one trip to the NBA Finals and improvements each year in the win column, Shaq decided to head west and signed a free-agent contract with the Lakers. 

The rest, as they say, is history. 

Shaq was united with Kobe and Phil, and together, they took home three NBA championships.

Webber went to have a near Hall of Fame career, most notably completing four of his five All-Star seasons with the Sacramento Kings

Penny Hardaway had a fine career but never fully achieved the level of success imagined for him when he entered the league and the Magic traded for him.

Sports are filled with “what if’s.”

Most of these scenarios make for great conversation pieces over a cold beverage.  Here are a few “what if” scenarios commonly heard around the water cooler. 

What if Barry Sanders had played for the Cowboys instead of the lowly Lions?

What if Mike Tyson had not gone to prison in the prime of his boxing career?

What if Steve Bartman had not reached his glove out for that foul ball?

There are many more to be sure, but last weekend while watching the NBA playoffs, my buddy randomly posed the question—what if the Orlando Magic had kept Chris Webber instead of dealing him for Penny Hardaway?

Interesting, obviously the frontline would have been dominant with arguably the greatest center of all time and multiple time All-Star at power forward. 

But how good could this team have really been? 

Could they have supplanted the great Chicago Bulls teams?  Or beaten a two-time NBA champion Houston Rocket club?

How many titles could the dynamic big-man duo of Webber and Shaq have produced?

To begin to tackle these questions, we will need to establish a few parameters.

One, the time frame in which we are going to theorize, these two studs would have played together and been in their “primes” respectively.

Two, the competition they would have faced during that time frame.

Three, we will need to perform statistical analysis of the two players during their “primes” and take a look at their overall career stats.

Four, we will need to examine the supporting cast that would have been in place to help Shaq and C-Webb succeed.

Five, using the statistical analysis of Shaq and C-Webb along with their supporting cast, we need to project how this “dream duo” would have fared against the competition they would have faced.

Establishing a Time Frame

Webber’s rookie year was 1993-94 season; Webber, as Shaq had done the previous season, collected the NBA Rookie of the Year award.

We will begin our time frame for this “what if” argument with Webber’s rookie year, which would have been the first year that he and Shaq could have played together.

Going forward 10 seasons puts us through the 2002-03 season.  Let’s cap the time frame at that point. Ten years is a long time in professional sports, and both players began to see their numbers fall off after the 2002-03 season.

Time frame 1993-94 to 2002-03.

Identifying the Competition during the Time Frame

In the East, the New York Knicks won the Eastern Conference in the 1993-94 season. 

The Orlando Magic (without C-Webb) won the 1994-95 Eastern Conference title.

The Jordan-led Chicago Bulls won the East and the NBA title three straight times beginning with the 1995-96 season culminating with the 1997-98 season.

The lockout-shortened 1998-99 campaign saw the Knicks return to the NBA Finals after capturing their second Eastern Conference crown in six years.

The Indiana Pacers, led by sharp-shooting Reggie Miller, won the Eastern Conference in 1999-00.

Allen Iverson’s Philadelphia 76ers captured the Eastern Conference crown in 2000-01.

The Jason Kidd-paced New Jersey Nets won back-to-back Eastern Conference championships in 2001-02 and 2002-03.

Over in the West, the Houston Rockets, led by Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon, pulled off back-to-back Western Conference and NBA championships during the 1993-94 and 1994-95 seasons respectively.

The Seattle Supersonics, with Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton, won the 1995-96 Western Conference championship.

The Utah Jazz won back-to-back Western Conference championships in the 1996-97 and 1997-1998 seasons.  The Jazz were led by Hall of Fame forward Karl Malone and Hall of Fame point guard John Stockton.

The San Antonio Spurs won the Western Conference and NBA title in the 50-game 1998-99 season.  It would be the first title of four for Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan.

The Shaquille O’Neal-led Los Angeles Lakers won the next three Western Conference and NBA titles, winning each crown in the 1999-00, 2000-01, and 2001-02 seasons.

The Duncan-led Spurs got their second of four NBA and Western Conference titles in the 2002-03 season.

The competition for this imagined Magic team would have consisted of the New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Nets out of the East.

From the West, the Magic would have been challenged by the Houston Rockets, Seattle Supersonics, Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs. 

The Los Angeles Lakers may still have been tough, but they would not have been nearly the same championship-caliber team without Shaq roaming the block.  Additionally, the Sacramento Kings who routinely ran into the Lakers would not have been as good without Webber.

The 10-Year Prime

Shaquille O’Neal was flat out dominant during his championship run with the Lakers.  Shaq was named the NBA Finals MVP during each of those championships. 

Shaq averaged nearly 37 points and 17 rebounds during the three championship finals appearances with the Lakers.  Simply put Shaq was an unstoppable force.

During the ten year period beginning with the 1993-94 campaign and ending with the 2002-03 season, Shaq averaged 27.9 points and 11.8 rebounds

Shaq collected one NBA regular season MVP, two scoring titles and 10 All-Star appearances to go along with his three NBA titles and three NBA Finals MVP’s during that 10-ear run.

For his 19-year career, Shaq has compiled a 23.7 point per game average to go along with 10.9 rebounds. 

Chris Webber was a silky-smooth power-forward who possessed the unique skill that included the shooting ability to effectively knock down jump shots from 15 to 20 feet, the ball handling skills that allowed him to attack the rim against a bigger, slower, power-forward, and a low post game that allowed him to dominate smaller power-forwards. 

Webber was a mismatch waiting to happen. 

If you defended him with a bigger player he routinely stepped outside where the bigger defender was not comfortable, which usually resulted in made jump shots or dribble drive finishes for Webber. 

If you went small, C-Webb went to the post and used his body and assortment of post moves to finish.

During the ten year period beginning with the 1993-94 campaign and ending with the 2002-03 season, Webber averaged 22.2 points and 10.1 rebounds. 

Webber was a five time All-Star and the NBA Rookie of the Year.  Webber’s postseason play was also outstanding, but his teams consistently ran into the Shaq-led Lakers.

Together, these two big men combined to average 50.1 points and 21.9 rebounds per game during this 10-ear prime stretch of their careers.   Both Shaq and C-Webb were terrific passers as well.

The Would-Have-Been Supporting cast for Shaq and C-Webb

Obviously from examining the incredible numbers put up by Shaq and Webber, what they would have needed most, was ironically, exactly what the Magic had—a defensive-minded and sound ball-handling point guard to go along with a couple of sharp-shooting three-point specialists.

At the point guard position, the Magic would have stuck with Scott Skiles.  Skiles was an adequate and solid player over a 10-year NBA career.  Skiles holds the single-game assist record at 30. 

In Shaq’s rookie season, 1992-93, Skiles averaged 15 points and nine assists.  In Shaq’s second season, the first year of our “10-year” examination, Skiles came off the bench, backing up Hardaway, and averaged 9.9 points and six assists per game. 

The following season, 1994-95, Skiles went to Washington where he found himself a starter again; Skiles averaged a respectable 13 points and seven assists that season.

For his career, Skiles averaged 11.1 points and 6.5 assists.  Skiles was regarded as a tough defender and solid ball-handler, maintaining a 3-to-1 assist to turnover ratio. 

These numbers likely would have been increased with the opportunity to play with two tremendous scorers in Webber and Shaq.

Also worth noting, Penny Hardaway, the point guard the Magic dealt Webber for, put together solid but not overwhelming averages during this same 10-year period. 

Hardaway’s numbers were a modest 15 points and five assists per game during this 10-year period.  

Skiles numbers don’t look too bad comparatively.

At the shooting guard and small forward positions, the perfect complement to such a formidable frontline was already in place—two excellent three-point shooting specialists in Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott.

Both Anderson and Scott put together solid 10-year plus NBA careers, each showing the capacity to fill up the basket from beyond the arc at a high rate.

For his career, Anderson, 6’6” shooting guard, averaged 14.4 points and 5.1 rebounds while shooting 36 percent beyond the arc.

During the four-year stretch from 1993-94 to 1996-97, Anderson averaged 147.75 made three-point baskets per year.

Scott was equally as effective during his NBA career compiling a 13-point career scoring average.  During a six-year stretch, beginning in 1992-93 and ending in 1997-98 Scott averaged 158.67 made three-point shots per year.  Including an NBA leading 267 made three pointers in the 1996-97 campaign.

With such assassins to kick the ball too, double teaming Shaq and Webber - though a necessity - would have been very difficult to get away with.

The Magic, with Skiles, Anderson, and Scott already in place when they drafted Webber, would not have needed to add to their starting five immediately. 

How would have they fared?

Now let’s rewrite history.

Beginning with the 1993-94 season, this Magic team would have faced, and in my opinion beaten, the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals.  The addition of Webber would have created a severe mismatch for the tough and physical defensive-minded Knicks coupled with the sharp-shooters outside the Magic advance 4-2 to move on to the NBA Finals.

In the Finals, the youth and big-stage inexperience would have shown through against the Olajuwon led Houston Rockets.  The Rockets would have claimed the 1993-94 NBA Championship, beating the youthful Magic 4-2.

Webber would have to be wondering how many years in a row he would finish a runner-up at this point.

In the 1994-95 season, the Magic would have easily dispatched the field from the East consisting of the Knicks, Bulls and Pacers and advanced on to the NBA Finals (the Magic, without Webber, actually won the East in 1994-95) where they once again would have met the Houston Rockets.

This NBA Finals rematch would have been epic; the Magic would have learned from their experiences and mistakes from the previous NBA Finals and beaten the Rockets in a tough seven-game series.  Shaq collects his first NBA Finals MVP.

The 1995-96 season featured Michael Jordan returning to the Bulls for a full season and would have culminated with the first of three straight Eastern Conference Finals match ups between the Jordan-led Bulls and the Shaq-led Magic.

In this Eastern Conference Finals, Jordan’s determination along with Rodman’s defense and Pippen’s all-around excellence push the Bulls past the Magic 4-3.

The Magic battle their way back to the Eastern Conference Finals in the 1996-97 season to face the defending champion Bulls. This time around, the Magic get the better of Jordan and company, led by dominating performances from both Webber and Shaq, who expose the Bulls lack of frontcourt talent, winning the series 4-3.

The Magic go on to beat the Utah Jazz in six games, claiming their second title in three years.

Coming back in 1997-98, the Bulls and Magic once again meet in the Eastern Conference Finals.  This results in the third consecutive seven-game battle and historical Eastern Conference Finals matchup. Jordan’s will is too much in Game 7; he scores 41 with seven boards and five assists, going out a champion.

After the retirement of Jordan and the dismantling of the Chicago Bulls, there are no teams equal to the talent level of the Shaq and Webber-led Magic.  Here is where the dynasty really takes off. 

Keep in mind Shaq is not on the Lakers in this scenario and also keep in mind Shaq had his best five seasons statistically during this time period.

Beginning with the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, the Magic win five straight Eastern Conference championships, defeating the likes of the aging New York Knicks, the Miller-led Pacers, AI’s 76ers and Kidd’s Nets.

The Magic would have faced the Spurs in two of those five seasons, but because we don’t know who would have been filling the void left by the Lakers minus Shaq and even the Kings minus Webber, it is safe to assume the Spurs probably reach the finals at least once more and perhaps an elderly Jazz team makes another finals appearance or two.  

I feel confident, having witnessed Shaq completely dominate the NBA Finals three times, that this hypothetical Magic team with C-Webb would have at least won four titles, with Spurs perhaps defeating them once.

This would have made for eight finals appearances with six championships for the Magic and Shaq and Webber.  Jordan and company would have only had five rings.  Kobe would have been limited to maybe just two championships.  Duncan likely would have had one less. The history of the game would have been altered forever.

No doubt Magic fans have dreamt about what could have been had management decided to form the most dominating frontline in NBA history. 

What is even more disheartening about this scenario is that the Magic had the pieces in place—the shooters, the point guard and two huge offensive weapons down low.

What if huh.

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