Although it won 45 games last year, the Magic was a team
divided. After coach Brian Hill was fired midway through the
season, many blamed his dismissal on a mutiny by the players,
who had clamored for a more high-profile leader. Orlando fans,
incensed at the notion that spoiled young athletes were calling
the shots, booed their ball club vociferously in the following
days, with one exception--center Rony Seikaly, a newcomer whose
exemption from the crowd's wrath immediately caused him problems
with his besieged teammates. "I want this to be the last team I
play for," Seikaly said. "All I want to do is fit in."
In the midst of that furor, three-point specialist Dennis Scott,
a close friend of the departed Shaquille O'Neal, knocked heads
with Penny Hardaway and his trusted sidekick, swingman Nick
Anderson, over who played what role in the now Shaq-less lineup.
As the playoffs neared, power forward Horace Grant hurt his
right wrist, then criticized Orlando's medical staff for calling
the injury a sprain instead of what he believed it was, a
hairline fracture. "It was a war zone in there almost every
night," says one Orlando player of the strife and backbiting in
the locker room. "The atmosphere was terrible."
Anderson, in particular, seemed shell-shocked. A sprained right
wrist forced him to miss 19 games and stripped him of the
aggressiveness that had made him an effective penetrator. After
six consecutive seasons of scoring 14 or more points per game,
including 19.9 in 1991-92 and '92-93, Anderson averaged 12.0
last season, shooting a career-low 39.7% from the field and an
execrable 40.4% from the line.
It was against this backdrop that Orlando pursued coach Chuck
Daly, the players' choice. Daly had repeatedly said he was
retired, but after the Magic waved a three-year, $15 million
package at him, the 67-year-old Hall of Fame coach finally
relented last June.
By then the Magic had been eliminated in five games by the Heat
in the opening round of the playoffs, a series highlighted by
the rousing performance of Hardaway in the final two games.
Playing at the shooting guard spot instead of at the point, he
scored 74 points and was the most dynamic--and dangerous--force
on the floor. Afterward, Hardaway echoed what many in the league
have said for years: His best position is the two, where he is
free to create and score without the added duty of setting up
No wonder, then, that one of Daly's first official acts was to
endorse the trade of Scott to Dallas for Derek Harper, who,
along with newly acquired Mark Price, will man the point and
allow Hardaway to shift to off-guard. Entering the final season
of his 15-year career, Harper will provide wisdom and leadership
to a team that was devoid of both last season. The deal should
also defuse some of the locker-room tension by removing Scott,
whose displeasure with the franchise bubbled over last summer in
a heated tirade at, of all places, his summer basketball camp.
While the Harper trade received the most fanfare in Orlando,
general manager John Gabriel made perhaps an even more
significant transaction by signing free agent Charles (Bo)
Outlaw. Outlaw is only 6'8", but he's a shot blocker who gives
the Magic added depth and size at small forward and was one of
the better secrets in the NBA with the Clippers last year.
Orlando also re-upped Derek Strong, an underrated power forward
who filled in admirably for the injured Seikaly in the postseason.
If Grant, who says he's healthy and "excited as hell" to play
for Daly, can recommit himself to the Magic, Orlando has a
chance to make some noise in the Atlantic Division. The team's
success will also hinge on whether Anderson, now the starting
small forward, can shake himself out of the doldrums. To reward
him for aggressiveness, the Magic inserted a bonus clause that
pays him more for his trips to the foul line. (He made only 94
last season, which, given his woeful percentage there, may have
been a blessing.) The early signs weren't good. In eight
preseason games Anderson did not attempt a single free throw.