The Magic had fired Brian Hill after 49 games and turned to assistant Richie Adubato. The 1997 Orlando Magic season saw the team advance to a first-round series against a Miami Heat team that won 61 games. Adubato generated excitement with his flashy suits and deep New York accent and the team played looser and fans were engaged. But the feeling was management was still going to look for a new head coach.
The Magic took the Heat to a game five in the best-of-five series, after falling behind 2-0. The Magic won two straight in the series after Penny Hardaway went for 42 and 41 in games three and four. Orlando fell in the decisive game, 91-83 and the season ended with many assuming Adubato had little chance to return as coach but would be the fall back candidate if other options fell through.
It was 25 years ago when the Orlando Magic went big in their coaching search. The Bulls had just won the second title of their second three peat but despite winning the title all was not happy in the Windy City. Phil Jackson's issues with GM Jerry Krause grew larger and the media began to learn that the man behind the curtain was telling more people about who he thought deserved credit for successes and that wore on Jackson, Jordan, Pippen and others. The Magic sensed there was an opportunity.
Then Magic GM John Gabriel gauged the interest Jackson might have to leave Chicago and take over the Magic. The team made a huge offer of five-years $30M, an amount no one paid coaches back in 1997. Jackson didn't say no. His agent, Todd Musburger, told the Magic the team would have to wait until the playoffs ended before Jackson would consider the offer. The problem for the Magic was Jackson didn't say no but understood the difficulty for Jackson to say yes while his team was trying to win their second straight title and fifth in seven seasons. Should the team wait and if Jackson played them for leverage and more money and guarantees in Chicago they could hire Adubato or someone else? Jackson did have all the leverage and the Magic had a sense that Jackson and Musburger liked having an offer from Orlando to go back to Jerry Krause and team owner Jerry Reinsdorf knowing that if the Bulls won another title, how could the Bulls not give Jackson what he wanted.
The Magic had to make a decision to wait or move on to someone else. They chose to move on and actually went back to someone who turned them down a few weeks earlier. Orlando had set their sights on Chuck Daly even before the season ended in 1997. Daly, who had won the back-to-back titles with the Detroit Pistons, was "retired" and working as an analyst for TNT. The Magic put feelers out to Daly before the regular season ended and then came back after their May 5th game, the series and season ending game against the Heat. On May19th, John Gabriel made an informal offer to Daly to become the team's head coach. Daly gave some thought and even agreed to the parameters of a deal but decided to pass. The Magic wanted a quick answer and Daly wasn't ready at that point: "We just had a good discussion about it. It's a wonderful job, a great area. But for me, it's not going to be there. Just one of those things."
After Daly had originally passed the Magic pursued Jackson but were told to wait. But they didn't want to wait. They went back to Daly and tried one more time and Daly bit. He took the job on June 1st by agreeing to a three-year $15M deal. He would be formally introduced by the Magic two days later. At 66, Daly was back on the sidelines and the Magic had landed a big name coach.
Despite a 16-7 start the 1997-98 Magic season was riddled with injuries. Penny played just 19 games., center Rony Seikaly played in 47, Nick Anderson 58 and the team used a total of 22 players en route to a 41-41 season and missed the playoffs. While Penny was healthy the following season, a labor battle saw the 1998-99 season reduced to 50 games. The team went 33-17 but Chuck and Penny never really clicked. Daly tried to get Penny to play a style Hardaway was never comfortable with. He averaged 15.8 points a game, a career low at that point of his NBA journey, and the Magic lost a first-round series to the Sixers and the Hardaway-Daly conflict became more public. Daly never coached the third year of his contract. He retired for good and the Magic were in the market for a new coach, again.
Orlando had their eye on another person. This guy might be able to help the team land a prize free-agent-to-be the following summer. The Magic hired Doc Rivers, whose Heart and Hustle team went 41-41. Doc was thought to be someone who might help the team land Tim Duncan in the summer of 2000 when the plan was to go after Grant Hill and Tim Duncan. The Magic landed Hill. Duncan chose to stay with San Antonio and Orlando also landed Tracy McGrady and a new era was underway.
Daly did indeed retire after two interesting seasons with the Magic. As for Phil Jackson back in 1997? Well, the Bulls won the title and Jackson agreed to return for one final season and got $6M to come back, which became the Bulls "Last Dance"...
Final note: Chuck Daly's first head coaching job was at Puxsutawney High School.