As the Magic embark on another rebuild, Orlando fans have been asked to be patient before and are once again being asked to come along for the ride. The franchise has had to pivot many times over the years and often these rebuilds-like most- come when a franchise player has decided they no longer want to play in Orlando.
In 1998, the Orlando Magic finished a 50-game NBA season going 33-17 but they were ousted by the Sixers in four games in the first round of the playoffs. Chuck Daly had decided he had enough with the travel and grind and dealing with an unhappy Penny Hardaway. Penny had played in all 50 games after just 19 in the previous season. He averaged 15.8/5.7/5.3 per game but clashed with Daly who was trying to squeeze as much as he could out of a star that was wearing down. When the season ended, Hardaway announced he would exercise his option to become a free agent.
With Daly moving on, the Magic went looking for a coach and understood that coach would likely not have Hardaway on the roster. Two names emerged as candidates with Orlando connections. Bob Hill had been an assistant under Brian Hill in the 1993-94 season in Orlando and the Spurs hired him as their coach where he spent two seasons at the helm before a guy named Popovich took over in 1996.
The other name under consideration was Scott Skiles. Skiles was a former Magic player who was a fan favorite during his time in Orlando. Skiles was on Danny Ainge's staff in Phoenix and thought to be a rising assistant and someone who would likely be a head coach sooner than later.
While the team considered Hill and Skiles, another name emerged. Doc Rivers had been doing TV for TNT for a few seasons and was developing into a popular and talented personality on air and viewers and players in the league seemed to think Rivers was a rock star that could be in that role for years to come.
But Rivers was not yet on the Magic radar because the New York Knicks were making a change in their front office and were eyeing Rivers for their general manager's position. But the Magic reached out to Rivers and the thought of coaching suddenly became quite intriguing to Doc.
The Magic convinced Rivers he could hire his own staff and be involved in personnel decisions- including the team's decision on if they could convince Penny Hardaway to stay.
The Rivers' hiring became a popular one despite his lack of experience in coaching. He agreed to a four-year $8M deal.
Two months after Rivers took over the Magic moved Penny Hardaway to Phoenix in a sign-and-trade deal. Hardaway agreed to a seven year $86M deal and was moved west for Danny Manning, Pat Garrity and two first round picks.
The Suns got off to a 13-7 start and then Danny Ainge surprised all by stepping down as coach and he was replaced by Scott Skiles, who went 40-22 the rest of the way.
Meanwhile, Doc took over a Magic team that went into a rebuild with the Hardaway deal. "Heart and Hustle" was born and an unknown player named Darrell Armstrong became a fan favorite as Orlando went on to go 41-41 and finish one game short of making the NBA Playoffs.
What if Doc stayed in television or took the Knicks' GM job and the Magic had hired Skiles then? We'll never know, but Rivers still coaches today with a championship ring. Skiles has laid low since he quit the Magic as coach. Bob Hill last was an assistant in Phoenix in 2016 and the Magic have started another rebuild.
Final thought: Doc Rivers' first game as Magic coach had this starting lineup: SF Bo Outlaw PF Ben Wallace C Michael Doleac SG Tariq Abdul-Wahad PG Darryl Armstrong. They lost to the Charlotte Hornets 100-86.