The Magic's performance last season is open to interpretation.
An optimist could choose to focus on the team's 33-17
regular-season record, which tied the Heat's for the best in the
Eastern Conference and suggested that the foundation was in
place for a successful future. A pessimist could quickly point
to the first round of the playoffs, when Orlando looked
overmatched and overwhelmed in falling to the seventh-seeded
76ers in four games. Which view does Magic general manager John
Gabriel take? Here's a clue: In the off-season he made 24
transactions involving 32 players.
"Looking back, I felt as though we were closer to the team that
lost to Philly than we were to the team that tied for the best
record in the East," Gabriel says. "That meant looking very hard
at some changes. But none of us expected the number of changes we
ended up making."
The catalyst for the shakeup was the retirement of Hall of Fame
coach Chuck Daly in May. As long as Daly was on board, Orlando
was committed to squeezing out as many wins as possible; when he
left, Gabriel had more freedom to tear down a team that he felt
did not have championship potential. He quickly identified the
centerpiece to the rebuilding effort as 6'6", 218-pound forward
Corey Maggette, who left Duke after his freshman season. The raw
Maggette slipped to 13th in the draft, and Orlando swung its
first big deal by acquiring him from the Sonics for power forward
The dominoes fell rapidly after that: Penny Hardaway to the Suns,
Nick Anderson to the Kings, Ike Austin to the Wizards. The purge
left only one starter, point guard Darrell Armstrong--albeit a
starter who, after coming off the bench early in the season, won
the 1999 Sixth Man Award. The Magic had few players to show for
its shopping spree but did stockpile nine first-round picks over
the next five seasons (including as many as four in 2000) and
carved out more than $11 million in salary-cap space in hopes of
landing a big-time free agent (like Tim Duncan or Grant Hill)
While new coach Doc Rivers admits he had trouble keeping track of
who was coming and who was going, Gabriel didn't. With whispers
about his power declining since Julius Erving was named Orlando's
executive vice president in June 1997, Gabriel has staked his
career on the huge overhaul. "This is John's deal," says Rivers.
"He's put his neck on the line for this--and my neck, too, I
guess. I admire him for doing it. He's got guts."
Gabriel needs Maggette to make an immediate impact, and Maggette
believes he can. "I'm a competitive guy who wants to win," says
Maggette. "So, of course, my feeling is we're going to surprise
some people. I'm not saying it's going to happen instantly, but
if teams come in here taking us lightly, it will be a mistake.
We've got a lot of guys on this team with something to prove."
That list includes forward Chris Gatling, who was an All-Star
with the Mavericks in 1996-97 but has played for four teams in
the last 3 1/2 years. It includes power forward Ben Wallace, who
played center last season in Washington because the Wizards
didn't have anyone else to clog the middle. It includes
journeyman forward Monty Williams, who played one game for the
Nuggets last season, then was waived and went unclaimed.
At least in the preseason Williams quickly grasped Rivers's plan
to push the ball. Those who are willing to get out and run will
be rewarded with playing time. "I want these guys to have the
mind-set of those old Celtics teams, who grabbed the ball out of
the net and just ran," says Rivers. "I want them going for the
home run pass off the rebound. Running is a habit. It takes time,
and we're not there yet."
In other words, in spite of the rule changes designed to increase
offense, don't expect Orlando to crack 100 (or, for that matter,
90) with any regularity. While its frontcourt has some solid
defenders--like Wallace, Michael Doleac and Bo Outlaw--none are
known for prolific scoring. The Magic did get an offensive kick
in the preseason from guard Anthony Parker, a throw-in in the
deal that sent Billy Owens to Philadelphia for Harvey Grant.
Parker, who fractured his left foot last February, appeared in
only two games for the Sixers in 1998-99.
The Magic was about to cut Parker loose over the summer when
assistant Eric Musselman interrupted a coaches' meeting, saying
that his NBA contacts believed Parker to be the best player in
the Boston Summer League. Rivers became a believer during
training camp. The 6'6" Parker not only knocked down the
18-footer, but he also drove hard to the hole and took the
charge. His play refuted the "soft" label he had been tagged with
during his two years in Philadelphia. "People keep telling me
this is my second chance, but in my mind it's my first chance,"
says Parker. "I'm practicing pain-free for the first time in a
"You watch him, and you wonder why he didn't make it before,"
Rivers says. "But you know what? I don't care why. He's played
too well. I don't have time to dwell on what happened in the
Rivers understands that his team's fortunes depend on young
players like Parker and the speedy Maggette. "Every once in a
while Corey will show us flashes of the phenom," said Rivers.
"But every once in a while he's the 19-year-old kid who doesn't
have it figured out yet."
The challenge for both Rivers and Gabriel is to prevent Maggette
from getting discouraged with himself or his team during what
promises to be a long season. "I guess it really didn't start to
hit home what we'd done until the guys got on the floor and we
realized how much we'd stripped away the scoring," Gabriel says.
"But we've got a certain level of athleticism and energy and work
"We're realistic. We are who we are. The key is to make enough
steps to keep our chins up so we can follow through on the
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO MAINSTAY Now a topflight playmaker, Armstrong has a whole new team to run.
COLOR PHOTO: FERNANDO MEDINA/NBA PHOTOS TEEN ANGEL The Magic is putting a lot of faith in Maggette, a would-be college sophomore.
STARTING FIVE [2 stars]
BENCH [1 1/2 stars]
COACH [3 stars]
FRONT OFFICE [2 1/2 stars]
CHEMISTRY [2 1/2 stars]
By the Numbers
1998-99 record: 33-17 (tied for first in Eastern Conference)
Coach: Doc Rivers (first season with Magic)
1998-99 PER GAME POINTS FG % REBOUNDS TURNOVERS
AVERAGES (rank) (rank) (rank) (rank)
MAGIC 89.5 (22) 42.8 (20) 42.7 (11) 16.0 (27)
OPPONENTS 86.9 (6) 44.3 (19) 40.4 (8) 17.3 (2)
Only two current Magic players, Darrell Armstrong and Ben
Wallace, ranked among the top 50 in the league in a major
statistical category last season. Armstrong placed that high on
five lists, while Wallace showed up on three.
STARTERS PVR* 1998-99 KEY STATS
SF Bo Outlaw 150 6.5 ppg 5.4 rpg 1.8 apg 54.5 FG%
A career 56.6% shooter, he led NCAA in FG% twice at Houston
PF Ben Wallace [#] 197 6.0 ppg 8.3 rpg 0.4 apg 57.8 FG%
Field goal percentage was better than league leader Shaquille
C Michael Doleac 178 6.2 ppg 3.0 rpg 0.4 apg 46.8 FG%
Had solid season off bench, earning second-team all-rookie honors
SG Tariq Abdul-Wahad [#] 183 9.3 ppg 3.8 rpg 1.0 apg 43.5 FG%
Started every game in which he played for high-scoring Kings in
PG Darrell Armstrong 39 13.8 ppg 3.6 rpg 6.7 apg 44.1 FG%
Was cited as league's Most Improved Player and won Sixth Man Award
BENCH PVR* 1998-99 KEY STATS
F Corey Maggette (R) [#] 132 10.6 ppg 3.9 rpg 1.5 apg 52.5 FG%
Left school after freshman season, the first Duke player to do so
F Matt Harpring 153 8.2 ppg 4.3 rpg 0.9 apg 46.3 FG%
Started more games (22) than any returning Magic player
F-C Chris Gatling [#] 161 5.7 ppg 3.7 rpg 0.7 apg 44.2 FG%
Blocked shots have declined in each of last five seasons; only
10 last year
G Anthony Parker [#][##] 188 1.9 ppg 0.7 rpg 0.5 apg 39.7 FG%
Made only field goal attempt in three minutes he played last year
G Monty Williams [#][##] 175 6.3 ppg 2.5 rpg 1.2 apg 44.8 FG%
Was teammate of coach Doc Rivers in New York and San Antonio
[#] New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 102)