Marc Daniels: One Of The Greatest Trades In Magic History...

Orlando Magic guard (1) Anfernee Hardaway drives p

With the NBA trade deadline approaching, the Orlando Magic may be busy. Aaron Gordon could be on the way out. Evan Fournier might be involved in a deal with Gordon or headed somewhere else with an expiring contract. Those are decisions the front office has to make and whether they are going in a different direction with the franchise or sticking with the core of younger players.

Any deal the Magic makes might help them in the future. But one of the best deals ever made took place 15 years ago.

In 2006, the Magic were struggling. Brian Hill was brought back for a second tour as the coach and Otis Smith and Dave Twardzik handled the front office. That season the team struggled early on. Grant Hill would play in a total of 21 games all year. Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson were in their second season and the roster included Hedo Turkoglu, DeShawn Stevenson and Tony Battie. But the team was being dominated by Stevie Francis.

Francis was dealt by Houston to the Magic in June of 2004. He arrived with Kelvin Cato and Cuttino Mobley in exchange for Reese Gaines, Juwan Howard, Ty Lue.......and Tracy McGrady. That was the decision of then Magic GM John Weisbrod- the hockey executive Magic ownership felt could run a basketball team. Weisbrod felt if McGrady had to be moved, he would toughen up Orlando with the three players he was bringing in. Francis averaged 19 points a game in his six seasons in Houston.

"Stevie Franchise" always played with a chip on his shoulder and rarely held emotions inside. In 2004, the Magic drafted Dwight Howard and pulled off a draft day trade for Jameer Nelson. Grant Hill played 67 games that season and averaged 19.7 points a game. But Francis was the focal point of the offense and led the team in scoring with 21.3 points a game. But chemistry never developed. Francis was furious when the Magic traded Mobley, his best friend, on January 10, 2005. Mobley went to Sacramento in a deal that sent Doug Christie back to Orlando. Johnny Davis was fired as head coach after going 31-33 and replaced by assistant Chris Jent. 

After his rookie season it became clear Dwight Howard was the future of the franchise. Brian Hill was re-hired as the team's head coach and he knew it was time for Dwight to grow in his role. But Francis still believed things should run through him. But his attitude became an issue for his teammates and Hill.

In January of that season, Francis began to complain privately and publicly about the team's offense and often appeared not engaged in games. On January 11th Francis refused to go back into a game at Seattle. Down 103-87 with 3:22 Francis sat when Hill asked him to check in. Stacey Augmon went in instead of Francis and after the game the Magic suspended Francis for "conduct detrimental to the team." The Magic were 13-20 at that point.

The suspension lasted three games. Jameer Nelson played well and the Magic saw they had a point guard for the future. But how could they fast track that future? The decision was made internally to see what the value was for Francis in a trade. 

Who would possibly want someone with two-years and $31M left on his contract that publicly criticized the team he was playing for and had been suspended for his actions?

The Magic had dropped six in a row and stood at 19-32 headed to the NBA All-Star break. The trade deadline was looming. The Magic lost their seventh straight at Cleveland coming out of the break. Dwight had 23 points and 14 rebounds in the loss to the Cavs. Francis played 26 minutes and scored 13 points.

On February 22, 2006, the night before the trade deadline, the Magic played in New Jersey against the Nets and lost their 8th in a row, 96-93. Steve Francis did not play. Orlando kept him out of the lineup hoping to pull off a deal before the trade deadline.

The Magic found a taker for Francis. The New York Knicks agreed to a deal. Larry Brown was the coach of the Knicks and Isiah Thomas was the GM. They felt Francis would flourish in New York on a roster with Stephon Marbury, Jalen Rose and Jamal Crawford in the backcourt. Francis didn't flourish averaging 10.8 points a game in 24 contests in New York.

But what did the Magic get back in the trade for Francis? Orlando received Trevor Ariza and......................Penny Hardaway.

Hardway had two injury riddled seasons with the Knicks and then had appeared in only four games that season before the trade. But his expiring contract made the trade of Francis possible so Orlando brought back one of the franchise's best players. But the Magic had no plans for Penny to put their uniform on again. 

On February 24, 2006 the Magic waived Penny and just like that he was gone. But Hardaway delivered one final assist for his former team. He made it possible for the Magic to rid themselves of a player who didn't want to be in Orlando and a team who didn't want him as well.

The Magic beat Seattle at home that night. Dwight went for 23 points and 16 rebounds. Keyon Dooling and Carlos Arroyo played the point with Jameer out with an injury. The Magic would lose six straight after that win. Side note: Rashad Lewis had 14 that night and didn't know two years later he would be a member of the Magic.

Dwight would continue to grow and then Stan Van Gundy came along and the Magic were in the NBA Finals in 2009. 

But as the next NBA trade deadline is upon us, remember how a Magic legend helped his old team out 15 years ago.

Final thought: Comic Chris Rock's first appearance on the "Oprah" television show was in 1997. Before Rock came out to the studio audience, Oprah interviewed "Little Penny"- who Chris Rock was the voice of.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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