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#8 Orlando Magic To sign its best center since Shaq left town, Orlando needed only a Penny (and $15 million)

Penny Hardaway started his courtship of free-agent center Isaac
Austin back in 1997, when the two met at Hardaway's charity
basketball game in Memphis. "Come on, big dog," Hardaway said
then and during the frequent phone calls that followed. "You
gotta come play with me in Orlando." Since franchise center
Shaquille O'Neal's signing with the Lakers in 1996, the Magic
had fallen on hard times. Last season, with Hardaway limited to
just 19 games because of knee and calf injuries, Orlando
finished fifth in the Atlantic division. It was the first time
Chuck Daly had coached a full season and failed to reach the

So during the off-season Penny invited Austin, the NBA's Most
Improved Player in 1997, to stay at his house in Orlando, where
his private chef saw to Austin's every culinary need. The
lesson: The way to every 270-pound pivot's heart is right
through the gullet. After his last visit to the Hardaway house
in mid-January, the 29-year-old Austin called his agent and told
him to cut a deal with the Magic. The two sides later agreed on
a three-year, $15 million contract. "If Penny ever needs to get
another job outside the NBA, sales may be the perfect
opportunity for him," says Daly. "Without him, we don't even get
close to signing Ike."

"We haven't had any respect since Shaq left," adds Hardaway. "I
think we're going to regain a lot of respect from around the
league with a guy like Ike Austin. This team is going to be
pretty scary."

It sure was last year when the Magic lost 277 player-games to
injury, forcing Daly to use 20 lineups and six point guards.
Those hardships may, however, have long-term benefits for the
Magic. For one, all that downtime seems to have lit a fire under
Hardaway, who is running out of opportunities to prove he can
lead an attack without Shaq. "You can just tell he is delighted
to be healthy, playing again and taking a leadership role," says

Penny's absence also forced his teammates to raise their games.
After the All-Star break fellow guard Nick Anderson scored 23.9
points per game--a quantum leap from the 7.9 he averaged in the
first half of the season. Even more impressive was the emergence
of 6'8" forward Bo Outlaw, a CBA alum and former Clipper whom
Austin calls a "chiseled basketball machine." Outlaw wound up
leading the team in rebounds, blocks and steals.

What Ike really liked about Orlando--even more than access to
Hardaway's chef--was the Magic's supporting cast. The talent
includes forwards Horace Grant and rookie Matt Harpring. "I'm
not Shaq," says Austin. "And I'm not the Man. I'm not going to
save this team by myself. Every time we talked, Penny said I
only had to do one thing: Just come here and play hard and help
us get Orlando back on top."


COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO He likes Ike Getting Austin on his team, and getting healthy, has made Hardaway happy.


Starters PVR* 1997-98 Key Stats

SF Bo Outlaw 107 9.5 ppg 7.8 rpg 2.21 bpg 55.4 FG%
PF Horace Grant 143 12.1 ppg 8.1 rpg 1.04 bpg 1.07 spg
C Isaac Austin[+] 60 13.5 ppg 7.1 rpg 2.2 apg 46.6 FG%
SG Nick Anderson 79 15.3 ppg 5.1 rpg 45.5 FG% 36.0 3FG%
PG Penny Hardaway 10 16.4 ppg 4.0 rpg 3.6 apg 1.47 spg

Top Reserves Bench Ranking (out of 29 teams): 22

F Matt Harpring(R)[+]149 21.6 ppg 9.4 rpg 2.6 apg 45.6 FG%
F Derek Strong 165 12.7 ppg 7.4 rpg 42.0 FG% 78.1 FT%
G Darrell Armstrong 178 9.2 ppg 4.9 apg 3.3 rpg 1.21 spg

1997-98 Record: 41-41 (fifth in Atlantic)
Coach: Chuck Daly (second season with Magic)

[+]New acquisition (R) Rookie (1997-98 statistics at Georgia Tech)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 68)