Miami — Of the thousands who flocked to American Airlines Arena to witness the coming out party of the most discussed, and cussed, free agent bounties in some time, two folks in particular stood out.
Tracy McGrady was in the house as a member of the Pistons, John Gabriel as a scout. A decade earlier, they held the same hopes and dreams as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Pat Riley, dreams shattered with the force of a Dwight Howard block.
In 2000, the Magic had cleared enough cap room to sign 2 and maybe 3 top-shelf free agents. This was the plan from the previous season, when they carried a team almost completely composed of players on the final year of their deals. Orlando was led by Doc Rivers, the freshly-named coach of the year, and Gabriel, a well-respected general manager. And just by chance, T-Mac, Grant Hill and Tim Duncan were free agents.
Orlando swung a sign-and-trade for Hill (sacrificing Ben Wallace, who 4 years would later be the anchor for the Pistons’ championship team). Duncan came for a visit, then T-Mac, who saw nothing but prosperity ahead for Orlando.
“It would’ve been us playing the Lakers for the championship,” T-Mac said Tuesday, “every year. C’mon, man, nobody was gonna beat us.”
Nobody, except tough luck. Duncan re-signed with the Spurs (“He was loyal. I can’t hold that against him,” says McGrady) and Hill spent most of his 4 years in Orlando with a bum foot. McGrady prospered and became rich, but the Magic never went anywhere until he left and Howard was drafted.
T-Mac is now trying for yet another comeback from knee issues, saying, “I’m 31 but my body is just 28,” and counting himself as one of many who’s curious about the Heat.
“I’m jealous,” he said. “I hope they win 10 championships.”