Shaquille O’Neal is one of the greatest NBA players of all-time. The Big Diesel ended up with four championships to his name after leaving the team that drafted him, the Orlando Magic.
Shaq and the Magic had a couple of dominant seasons in the NBA. Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway was considered as one of the best guards in the league.
Hardaway and Shaq ended up dominating the league from 1993-1996. They made it all the way to the finals in the 1994-1995 season before getting outmatched by the Houston Rockets. The Magic were winning in Game 1 of the Finals and were on course to win the game.
However, the Magic’s third scoring option Nick Anderson, a 70 percent free throw shooter, missed four free throws in a row. After that the Magic mentally checked out from that series and got swept 4-0.
Over the course of those three seasons, the Magic would accumulate 167 wins, increasing their total from 50, 57, 60 in each year.
After the 1995-1996 season, Shaquille O’Neal decided to leave Orlando for Los Angeles and play for the Lakers. After Shaq made that decision, the league implemented a salary cap tax to prevent players from being lured to big markets from the teams that drafted them.
Shaq undoubtedly had the best years of his career as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, but what if he stayed in Orlando with Penny Hardaway, Nick Anderson, and Brian Shaw?
Penny Hardaway managed to have two more solid seasons before injuries caught up with him and turned him into an what if scenario as well.
Let’s say Shaq stayed for at least three years, how good would they have been? They might have been the type of the team to give Michael Jordan and the Bulls a run for their money.
The Orlando Magic proved to be a decent team without Shaq. They finished 45-37 on the year with Penny Hardaway and Rony Seikaly as they best players. They lost 3-2 to the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs as the number seven seed.
Shaq finished third in the NBA on the Player Efficiency Rating (PER) behind Michael Jordan and Karl Malone. If the Magic had Shaq, they would have had a much better chance at beating the Heat.
It would be very tough for the Magic to repeat what they did back in the 1995 playoffs and beat the Bulls but it is possible. By this point the Bulls and even the Knicks were more experienced and Patrick Ewing vs. Shaq seems like a great matchup. Either way, the Magic would still be contenders.
The Magic lost Rony Seikaly but managed to keep the rest of their core together. They finished 41-41 and did not make the playoffs, Penny Hardway only played 15 games that year.
If Shaq was still in Orlando, the Magic would have definitely made the playoffs since they were only two games off of the 8th seed.
The team clearly knew how to play well together and Shaq would have made them even better, but they wouldn’t have been MJ and the Bulls that year.
This was the lockout year which meant that the title was pretty much up for grabs. The season was shortened to 50 games which means seeding didn’t mean much. The Magic were 33-17 and they finished 3rd in the Eastern Conference.
The lockout impacts Shaq’s numbers a bit, but he led the league in PER and was 2nd in the league in win shares.
I think this would have been the perfect opportunity for the Magic to get back to the Finals. The Knicks were a Cinderella story under Jeff Van Gundy but Orlando matched up well with them.
The Magic wouldn’t be able to handle Tim Duncan, David Robinson and the Spurs in the Finals. Shaq and the Lakers got swept by them so it’s unlikely the Magic would have done better.
In the end, would Shaq’s career have been that much different if he stayed in Orlando. It is true that the team showed potential by beating the Bulls and getting to the Finals in 1995. The problem is that for the next three years they would have run into some really great teams. They also might not have had the best coaches during Shaq’s time with the team.
The fact is Shaq had to wait anyway before his three-peat with the Lakers because of the Bulls and Spurs. Shaq’s departure must have crushed Orlando but in hindsight, Penny Hardaway might not have been around long enough for the Magic to win it all anyway. The Magic’s dominance was so short-lived because it was over a three year span.
I feel they could have made at least one more Finals appearance, but we’ll never know if Shaq had what it took to win a ring with himself as the star.