Orlando's Penny Hardaway spent the off-season working out in a
Memphis gym under police surveillance. He did not follow
through on plans to go to Houston for pickup games during the
lockout. He did not return to Orlando to watch teammate Dennis
Scott sink his teeth into his role on the TV sitcom Out of the
Blue. He did not jet to Los Angeles to hang out with Magic
uberstar Shaquille O'Neal, who was gripping and grinning with
President Clinton and Microsoft multibillionaire Bill Gates
between takes on the set of Shaq's Disney flick, Kazaam.
It's not that the Memphis-born Hardaway couldn't have pulled an
Elvis and left the building--the cops, after all, were only there
to give him free, round-the-clock protection in exchange for his
participation in their antidrug campaign. And it's not that
Penny hadn't earned some sort of vacation: Over 98 regular- and
postseason dates, his numinous feel for the game had established
him as a budding NBA immortal--a veritable point god. No,
Hardaway was haunted by the Magic's four-game disappearing act
against Houston in the Finals, and so he pumped iron four times
a week to steel himself for a more satisfying title drive.
When he finally did come to Orlando in September for a voluntary
workout, Hardaway checked in at 214 pounds, 19 more than he
weighed last season. "It's about being focused," he says, "and I
think I'm more focused than I was last year."
So, too, is Shaq, despite the distractions of, well, being Shaq.
Even while domiciled in his $20,000-a-month Beverly Hills digs
and making the arduous commute to Hollywood, O'Neal got up at 5
a.m. to train with Billy Blanks, whose clients include Wayne
Gretzky and Paula Abdul. Blanks had him doing aerobics, martial
arts, boxing and, for the first time, weightlifting. "He's
jumping in the air with 135 pounds on his back to make him more
explosive, and the boxing and karate training are making him
think quicker too," Blanks says.
O'Neal's thoughts are already straying beyond this season, to
the day when he can exercise an opt-out clause on the remaining
three years of his contract. Although he has said he's leaning
toward staying in Orlando, there has been speculation that he
would bolt to L.A., where he can more easily juggle hoops with
his rap and film careers. He has also told confidante Scott that
he would like to become the NBA's first $100 million man. Don't
bet he won't. Considering that Magic owner Rich DeVos plans to
shell out $30 million just to build a new practice facility for
the team, it doesn't seem likely he would pinch a few million
when it comes to keeping his franchise center happy.
With Hardaway and O'Neal both primed and pumped for this season,
Orlando should do no worse than win another 60 games and another
trip to the conference finals. Horace Grant did all that was
asked of him as a newcomer last season, providing blocked shots,
rebounds, defense, clutch outside shooting and leadership. On
top of that, he even scouted: After working out against Memphis
forward David Vaughn in June, he helped persuade the Magic to
select him with the 25th pick in the draft.
At small forward, Scott has about five fewer dimensions to his
game than Grant, but his one is worth three. His frequent
brilliance from beyond the arc is integral to the Magic attack,
so despite his shoddy D and pudgy body--he reported to camp
carrying his customary 15 pounds of excess flesh--the Magic
re-signed him to a three-year, $8.8 million deal. Sixth man
Donald Royal is Scott's inverse: a hustler, a defender and a
slashing scorer with no J to speak of. He will get a late start
in training camp because of off-season ankle surgery.
Orlando also ponied up $9 million for the next three years to
retain Brian Shaw, whom coach Brian Hill can use at either point
or shooting guard. Shaw will get a push as the third guard from
Darrell Armstrong, the 1994-95 Spanish League scoring leader who
netted 10 points in his only eight minutes of action last season.
Nick Anderson set career highs last year in three-point attempts
(431), makes (179) and percentage (41.5), and he doesn't think
missing four straight free throws in the final 10.7 seconds of
regulation of the 120-118 overtime loss to Houston in Game 1 has
rattled his confidence. "I didn't spend a lot of time walking
around this summer with my head down," he says. "I just missed
them. It's just something that happened. I will learn from it,
and it will make me stronger."
That's the Magic: a lot stronger, a year more experienced and
100-some-odd games away from erasing that acid taste left over
from their last four.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Hardaway, who holed up last summer, will go to the hole stronger this season. [Anfernee (Penny) Hardaway]
BY THE NUMBERS
1994-95 TEAM STATISTICS
PPG (Rank) FG% (Rank)
OFFENSE 110.9 (1) .502 (2)
DEFENSE 103.8 (19) .457 (12)
Shaquille O'Neal has finished among the league leaders in field
goal percentage in each of his three seasons in the NBA, but he
has not shot above 60% from the free throw line in any of them.
In each of the past two years he has shot better from the field
than from the line. The bottom line: Not only does O'Neal have
the third-best field goal percentage in NBA history, but he also
has the third-worst free throw percentage.
Highest Lifetime Field Goal Percentage
(minimum 2,000 field goals made)
Player FG FGA Pct.
Artis Gilmore 5,732 9,570 .599
Mark West 2,330 3,958 .589
Shaquille O'Neal 2,616 4,489 .583
Steve Johnson 2,841 4,965 .572
Darryl Dawkins 3,477 6,079 .572
Lowest Lifetime Free Throw Percentage
(minimum 1,200 free throws made)
Player FT FTA Pct.
Wilt Chamberlain 6,057 11,862 .511
Johnny Green 2,335 4,226 .553
Shaquille O'Neal 1,353 2,425 .558
Bill Russell 3,148 5,614 .561
Elmore Smith 1,203 2,079 .579
PLAYER TO WATCH
Other more lucrative offers were on the table, but center Jon
Koncak left Atlanta after 10 seasons and signed a two-year, $2.2
million pact to spell Shaquille O'Neal for 10 minutes a game. At
32, Koncak is six years removed from the $13 million deal that
earned him the nickname Jon Contract because the amount seemed
so absurdly high at the time. The 7-foot, 250-pound Koncak never
put up gaudy numbers for the Hawks--his career averages are 4.6
points and 5 boards a game--but he defends well, understands the
game and is more than happy to accept his role as Shaq's backup.
Orlando used its $1 million exception to exceed the salary cap
and sign him. "I've already made the big money--that's not why I
came," Koncak says. "I want to win a championship." And don't
think he can't help the Magic do just that.
STARTERS 1994-95 Key Statistics
SF Dennis Scott 12.9 ppg 2.4 rpg 42.6 3FG%
PF Horace Grant 12.8 ppg 9.7 rpg 56.7 FG%
C Shaquille O'Neal 29.3 ppg 11.4 rpg 2.43 bpg
PG Anfernee Hardaway 20.9 ppg 7.2 apg 51.2 FG%
SG Nick Anderson 15.8 ppg 4.4 rpg 41.5 3FG%
F Donald Royal 9.1 ppg 4.0 rpg 2.8 apg
G Brian Shaw 6.4 ppg 3.1 rpg 5.2 apg
C Jon Koncak 2.9 ppg 3.0 rpg 0.74 bpg