He was one of the most electrifying players to ever wear a Magic uniform and he reminds fans of the years when the team was one of the league's best playing alongside with Shaq. Penny Hardaway was a favorite of all and anything that reminds us of days when the Magic were relevant is a good thing, right?
The Athletic's Josh Robbins and Shams Charania were the first to report that Hardaway interviewed with the Magic for their vacant head coaching position and has emerged as a serious contender to get the job.
A source tells me Hardaway is seriously considering the job and has even given thought to his staff he would bring. While that doesn't mean Penny is packing his bags and heading to central Florida, he is intrigued enough that some at the University of Memphis are starting to worry.
Hardaway had become a top AAU/high school coach before taking over his alma mater. With a job to restore the Memphis program to levels John Calipari took it, At 49, Penny just finished his third season as head coach at Memphis and his team won the NIT in the challenging year it was in college basketball. He has quickly become a top recruiter and has landed some of the biggest names for his current and future class. The Tigers should be an NCAA tournament team this season and back in December Hardaway agreed to a five-year extension that pays him $2.5M a season and is under contract through the 2025-26 season.
Why Penny for the Magic? First, as a fan favorite he works for fans. He creates a buzz and there is nothing wrong in having someone who played for your organization with head coaching experience running your team. Hardaway is said to be good at developing young players at the college level. Like most coaches these days, he has seen players come and go from his program. He has gone 63-32 in three seasons at the college level. Can he connect and relate and develop the young Magic roster? He certainly should gain. immediate respect since most of the current roster can remember when Penny played. He knows the NBA game and with an experienced group of assistants a transition to the NBA is certainly one he can make.
But why Penny? It seems a bit odd in some ways. Based on comments by Jeff Weltman, it looked like the Magic were focusing on that rising young assistant. While never saying that, Weltman talked about a coach that gets what's going on currently with the team. Right now the Magic have pressed the reset button. Every indication has been the next Magic coach will need to understand this might take 2-3 years to rebuild back up. Does Penny really have the patience to lose 100-120 games the next two years?
Some suggest Hardaway helps in attracting free agents? Are you kidding? Right now, what free agent sees Orlando as a destination to win a championship and the Magic are not in the position to offer anyone a big contract. Penny might be able to land some talent with a roster that others think are ready to win but that's not right now.
Is this still Weltman's call or has Alex Martins and Magic ownership stepped in and feel that fans need something to get excited about since the next couple of years will be rough sailing? I doubt that to be the case.
Maybe Penny sees a chance to take over a team and be the face of the franchise for a few years and develop a team while also banking $20-25M? He could always go back and get a college job if the NBA thing did not work out. It's not about leverage to get a new deal from Memphis, he just signed that new extension a few months ago.
I would have no problem if the Magic hired Penny. I don't care who the team hires. I just want them to get it right. Penny would create a buzz but how long does that buzz last? I do think the Magic need to hire a coach soon. I think the new coach should be involved in the draft evaluation process. That coach is going to coach these new players and believe that input in the pre-draft weeks matters.
Other vacancies are getting filled and some of those names mentioned for the Magic job have landed elsewhere. There are plenty of candidates still left because there's only 30 NBA teams. I'd give a nickel for Penny's thoughts right now but are the Magic ready to bring back one of the legends and his doll of a friend, Lil' Penny? The next few days could be very interesting.
Final thought: There are about 130 billion pennies in circulation today. About 10 billion pennies are made each year.