Thursday, September 22, 2011

Top 10 Orlando Magic Centers in Franchise History

I decided to provide my input on who I thought the Orlando Magic’s best position players were in its 22 seasons of existence. That’s not a long period in comparison to many prestigious professional teams. Even though we’ve never hoisted the championship, the Magic made it to two NBA Finals in our 6th and 20th seasons.

Throughout these rankings, keep in mind that it’s not just statistics involved but also intangibles and whether the player did what they were supposed to do in their assigned role. Winning also plays a large factor as you’d expect. Any personal opinions will be controversial. All numbers are from regular season games only and it’s the seasons themselves being averaged out, not on an individual game basis. So the numbers may look different from other sites.

Anfernee Hardaway took the best point guard spotTracy McGrady was just recently crowned as the #1 shooting guard in Orlando Magic historyHedo Turkoglu lit up a victory cigar for taking top honors as best small forward, and Horace Grant got some Windex to shine up his goggles for being the best power forward.

Let’s see who reigns supreme as the best center.

Missing the cut:

Patrick Ewing

2001-2002; 65 games played; 4 starts; 13.9 mpg; 6.0 ppg; 4.0 rpg; 44.4% FG shooting. 

Orlando, where end of the line centers come to finish their careers. Because clearly Pat didn't want to retire in Seattle. 'Chewing', as we've come to know the NBA legend, probably prefers we remember him as a Magic assistant coach than player. The Georgetown product had racked up a lot of miles on those legs of his. But he was still a better option at center than DeClercq and Don Reid.

It was pretty sweet even if you weren't a Knicks fan to see Patrick get several massive ovations on his last visit to Madison Square Garden in April of '02. The video I'd imagine gives any NYC sports nut chills, especially when the chants begin.

Severely hampered by his dead knees, Ewing really gutted out his farewell tour. The Tracy McGrady-led Magic did make the playoffs that season, but Ewing and Horace Grant were too old and ineffective for a fast Charlotte Hornets team. Currently we get to enjoy Patrick for eating in the locker room and making guarantees. Let's see if he'll fulfill his goal of becoming a Head Coach in this league.

Michael Doleac

1998-2001; 207 games played; 50 starts; 16.9 mpg; 6.5 ppg; 3.5 rpg; 44.6% FG shooting. 

A product of the shortened '98-'99 season, Michael Doleac was a rookie on the rise it seemed like. Doleac sadly didn't have a place in this franchise once Chuck Daly stepped down. Daly loved his jump-shooting centers, and Mike was definitely that. A 4-year senior out of Utah, his tenacity and grit were rare qualities for fresh meat. Slow-footed, but a good court runner for his size (go figure), Doleac wasn't a rebounding or defensive force. Still though, Michael became quite popular coming off the bench. Doleac was named to the All-Rookie 2nd Team.

It also helps when your best game in a Magic uniform came in Shaq's first return to Orlando. That jumper looked like it'd drop every time the ball left his hand. It's no coincidence that his first season in the league would be his best in a Magic jersey. Big Mike would not be used as efficiently under Doc Rivers' reign. So the front office saved some money in the summer of 2001 by trading Doleac for Brendan Haywood (who was then immediately shipped off again for garbage).

Shawn Kemp

2002-2003; 79 games played; 54 starts; 20.7 mpg; 6.8 ppg; 5.7 rpg; 41.8% FG shooting. 

There was definitely no 'Reign Man' in Orlando. Believe it or not, Shawn's time in Orlando was a bit better than Portland. Don't get me wrong, he needed an oxygen tank with him at all times. So many terrible or over-the-hill big men on that 2002-2003 squadHorace Grant had that falling out with Doc RiversPat Burke was only great in the preseason, Olumide OyedejiSteven HunterRyan Humphrey...I think I'm going to be sick.

I thank God every day that the Magic ended up acquiring Drew Gooden. Yeah it wouldn't work out come '03-'04, but we probably get swept by the Pistons (rather than choke in 7 games) if we had to depend solely on DeClercq. Come that first round, Kemp was beyond worthless. The towel boy was contributing more.

Other very notable players missing the cut, but not worth going into detail over:

Andrew DeClercqDanny Schayes, and Tree Rollins.

10. Isaac Austin

1998-1999; 49 games played; 49 starts; 25.7 mpg; 9.7 ppg; 4.8 rpg; 1.8 apg; 1.0 spg; 40.8% FG shooting. 

Ike is another one-year wonder on this list. If he was in just decent shape, his stay would have gone better. However, he let down Chuck Daly and Penny Hardaway (who begged the front office to diligently seek his services throughout the Lockout) by coming into January training camp overweight and no where near as mobile as the organization had expected. Wasn't anywhere near the same physical condition as his Most Improved Player season in Miami. Sure Ike and Penny had chemistry, but it didn't really matter when the games counted.

You don't go from one of the best teams in the league to getting knocked out of the postseason by a younger, faster Philadelphia 76ers team in the 1st round without some player performances dropping off. Austin managed to play even worse in the postseason than in his 49 regular games.

Austin would get traded in August of 1999 to Washington in a salary cap saving move that would bring us Ben Wallace. Sounds like a 'Heart & Hustle' upgrade that new coach Doc Rivers can look back on and say that was worth it (even if Big Ben was around just one season). Austin proved to be a $5 million Magic mistake that would continue to decline for his final few years in the Association. This is why you don't trust former Miami Heat players.

9. Kelvin Cato

2004-2006; 85 games played; 50 starts; 18.8 mpg; 5.4 ppg; 4.7 rpg; 48.5% FG shooting. 

Probably one of the more underrated bigs in this team's history. The forgotten man from the Tracy McGrady deal with Houston. Damn you, Francisco Elson. Until then, the 30-year-old was on his way to a career season. It's just night and day after his shoulder injury. The game logs never lie, and neither does the footage. Cato's playing career was immediately shortened as he lost much of his rebounding and shot blocking dominance. His superb shooting percentages also crumbled.

People look at that '04-'05 team and blame the Cuttino Mobley-Doug Christie trade for the implosion. But the team's decline began before Cuttino was shipped out in large part because we weren't as strong in the paint without a healthy Kelvin. Then we all remember Steve Francis going nuts and there vanished our playoff hopes.

Kelvin was your Theo Ratliff-type of big man. Yeah he may get posterized on occasion, but that wouldn't stop Cato from trying to swat your shot. I give Kelvin big props for helping Dwight grow up in his first few years in the league. Just a shame really because him and Dwight were quite the twin towers duo. Kelvin transferred some of his fearlessness and paint leadership to the rookie. Cato would be involved in that Detroit deal that brought us Carlos Arroyo and Darko.

8. John Amaechi

1999-2001; 162 games played; 89 starts; 21.0 mpg; 9.2 ppg; 3.3 rpg; 1.1 apg; 41.9% FG shooting. 

Known more for coming out of the closet after his career, and for having a British accent, John is mostly forgotten in this community. Big John had quite the solid European career before joining the Magic. One of the main pieces of 'Heart & Hustle', the Utah Jazz would financially reward Amaechi after his second season in Orlando. If you're ever involved in basketball trivia, just know that John Amaechi scored the very first NBA points in the new millennium. It was in a loss to Miami.

Amaechi was another center with a jumper, and that can lead to some rough shooting percentages. Doc clearly didn't trust John to get the job done come postseason time. The 2000-2001 campaign was quite a pleasant surprise with McGrady leading things, and yet John's statistics suffered. But Amaechi barely saw court time in our 3-1 first round defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks. John couldn't defend his opponents. That means Doc won't play you. Still surprised Utah wanted Amaechi so badly to triple his salary.

7. Stanley Roberts

1991-1992; 55 games played; 34 starts; 20.3 mpg; 10.4 ppg; 6.1 rpg; 1.5 bpg; 52.9% FG shooting.

The original LSU big man that warmed up Shaq's locker room for a season. Let's ignore his later substance issues. Injuries really cut down his potential with this franchise. Stanley was quite the thunderous player. Because the Magic front office needed to clear cap space to pay Shaq, Stanley would be sacrificed in September of '92. Looking back now, it was definitely the smart choice. Roberts' legs were failing him, which caused unwanted weight gain (Doesn't this sound familiar?). That takes away a lot from your abilities.

Stanley really only had two mostly injury-free seasons out of eight in the NBA. His rookie season in Orlando proved to be fairly solid when he was on the court, making the All-Rookie 2nd Team despite missing a good chunk of his inaugural year. The Magic had fresh meat at center and power forward with Brian Williams (a.k.a. Bison Dele). In hindsight, that '91-'92 campaign was all about transitioning towards league legitimacy. Still, a Stanley-Shaq LSU reunion big line would've been mighty interesting to watch at the O-Rena.

6. Darko 'Serbian Swatter' Milicic

2006-2007; 110 games played; 17 starts; 22.4 mpg; 7.8 ppg; 4.8 rpg; 1.0 apg; 2.0 bpg; 48.1% FG shooting. 

Raise your hand if you still have one of those fly swatters? With Kelvin Cato at the end of the road, the Magic were willing to take a risk right before the trade deadline of the '05-'06 season. His confidence shot thanks to Larry Brown, Darko's playing career was salvaged once he left Detroit. He was still a crazy S.O.B. but he produced. His defense was DPOY worthy at times.

The 2003 second overall Draft pick showed glimpses of why he was selected so high. No one really knew that Darko could be so resilient on defense. Brian Hill showed trust in Milicic where the Detroit coaching staff hadn't. Yeah, B-Hill would always complain (and rightfully so) that Darko was taking way too many jumpers. Let's just say he wasn't open on a lot of them (DRIVE TO THE HOLE!). The other problem the crafty lefty had was that he had zero skills with his right. He may as well have been an amputee he was so left-hand dominant.

Even though he has that 2004 Pistons championship ring, Darko didn't get his first true playoff experience (and only postseason since) in 2007. Despite the Pistons sweeping us, Darko played damn well. Scored double figures in each contest, a form of consistency that few other Magic men showed in that series. Then his contract was up, the Magic didn't exercise his $6.8 million qualifying offer, and the Memphis Grizzlies paid for Darko's services where he regressed. I'll ignore the very unkind words Darko's agent gave upon his exit.

Plus, with new coach SVG coming into town, Orlando's main front office summer priorities focused on signing Rashard Lewis, extending Dwight, and possibly extending Jameer Nelson. We had our core, and there just wasn't enough money to keep Darko in the mix. Milicic is doing better in Minnesota currently, but it's an easy argument to make that his best years were in Orlando.

5. Marcin 'Polish Hammer' Gortat

2007-2010; 175 games played; 5 starts; 12.2 mpg; 3.6 ppg; 4.0 rpg; 52.9% FG shooting.

Probably the best second round selection we've ever stolen away for peanuts. Another unique character, Warlock's statistical impact gets laughed at, but we Magic fans know to focus on his pure effort and emotion. The 'Polish Hammer' definitely belongs in here. There's no way I won't include a very important bench player from the 2009 Finals run. Upon immediate arrival in Orlando, Gortat never hid his Association goals. He's pretty much accomplished all of them, with a long NBA career ahead of him remaining. The few times Dwight didn't play, Marcin proved a constant double-double threat. Gortat is proving his starting capabilities currently in Phoenix.

'Warlock' is a hero in Poland. He has quite the assortment of special fans that's almost Vinsanity-like. What distinguished Gortat mostly was that he wasn't a Euro stiffFar from it. The hang-time Warlock displayed was ridiculous. His hustle and athleticism do not match your typical 6'11" European. Once Marcin picked up some steam, say off a pick-and-roll, he would not be denied. I always referred to J.J. Redick and Gortat as Stockton-Malone Version 2.0 they had such good chemistry.

Having a man as intimidating and imposing as Marcin, yet who still shows off the softest of touches at his size, is quite the dangerous mixture. He feared no one, including mammoths like Shaq. Business was business, but Marcin always had time to have fun and enjoy his rise in popularity. Such an entertaining personality. Orlando may indeed have had two top 10 centers on the roster. Dwight on a few occasions (especially when Yao was injured) said that his toughest center competition came from Marcin during practices.

The Polish Hammer was a beast in the postseason where other centers on this list have fallen apart. He's never more than a 4th offensive option, but he was still a very efficient scorer. Gortat always produced, even throughout our '09 Finals run. Especially that Game 6 first round clincher against Philadelphia where he posted a double-double when Dwight was out. We knew the day would come where as long as Dwight was in town, Gortat wouldn't be able to spread his wings and full potential until we let him go. There could be a lot of regret for trading Marcin to Phoenix if Dwight bails from Orlando.

4. Sidney Green

1989-1990; 73 games played; 31 starts; 25.5 mpg; 10.4 ppg; 8.1 rpg; 1.4 apg; 46.8% FG shooting. 

The legitimate 1st Orlando Magic player ever, Sidney Green is yet another one season wonder on our list. Sidney was actually a pretty serviceable big man in an ugly inaugural season. At 6'9", Sidney seemingly had no right to play center, but that's what he did for the most part. Whether it was as a great bench player, or not so good starter. Sidney clearly didn't care for his height disadvantage and managed to lead the Magic in rebounding. I'm not going to B.S. my way into thinking I knew how the man's game play looked.

Sidney didn't take long to leave a mark on the community with his charity work. So you can imagine the surprise when he was involved in an oddly late trade. Pat Williams dealt Green to the San Antonio Spurs on October 30, 1990. The Magic received Mark McNamara and a 1st round pick (which is what we were most interested in) that would later become Stanley Roberts. Seeing all the bad quotes about Mark is pretty hilarious reading material.

The youth movement was on after one year with the keys being handed over to the likes of Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott. There's no denying the franchise had a vision, as the draft picks and ping pong balls would start falling into place towards building a contender. Green would never come close to the statistical success he enjoyed in pinstripes. I'm sure the old school Magic fans will never forget Sidney's 36-point, 15-rebound performance.

3. Rony Seikaly

1996-1998; 121 games played; 115 starts; 33.5 mpg; 16.2 ppg; 8.6 rpg; 1.4 apg; 1.1 bpg; 47.4% FG shooting. 

There's a massive gap between the top 3 and everyone else on this list. Sort of Greek but mostly Lebanese, there will always be a soft spot in my basketball heart for Rony. I nicknamed Seikaly 'butter fingers', and rightfully so, before I think I'd ever tried the chocolate bar. Guy could do almost anything with the ball on offense. The problem was, he couldn't always catch the Spalding. On several occasions during any typical game, Rony would fumble the ball a few times in the post before either turning the ball over or pulling a phenomenal move and shot out of his ass. With that said, the man was very crafty and super light on his feet.

Most people today probably know Rony for mistreating Elsa Benitez (She's only 33 now?!), or currently being employed as a DJ. There's no denying, dude could ball. He never made an All-Star game, but when you're a consistent 17 and 10 contributor, it's sucks to not have been voted in even just once. Rony was just unfortunate to be playing in a golden age of big men.

Here's an early season trade for you, November 2, 1996. The Magic even played one regular season game, which we lost, before flying out to Japan for 2 games that would count where Rony would meet the team. John Gabriel was celebrating like it was Christmas. So tapped to fill Shaq's shoes (easy task I know), Seikaly quickly won fans over and made them forget he was a hated ex-Heat rival. Plus, we fans were focusing too much on the Brian Hill-Magic locker room drama that played out throughout that 1996-1997 campaign to hold a grudge.

Rony's tendency for scary leg injuries though would eventually become too stressful for the franchise to deal with. Hell of a regular season player before that Heat series, but the wear and tear was catching up to him. A finesse center just can't exactly succeed if he's got bad extremities to work with. That's the side effect of sacrificing your body constantly. February 19, 1998 was the day we said farewell to a big man we had high hopes for. On a quick side note, who said you can't win a game with just 6 players?

2. Shaquille 'Man of Steel' O'Neal

1992-1996; 295 games played; 293 starts; 37.7 mpg; 27.2 ppg; 12.4 rpg; 2.5 apg; 2.7 bpg; 57.9% FG shooting. 

Controversy is officially upon us. Yes, the man who put Orlando on the basketball map is not number one. The man who put up 53 points in front of an elated O-Rena crowd. A mountain of an individual with never before seen skills and athleticism. The 1992-1993 Rookie of the Year, and a 3-time All-Star selection in his pinstripe days, Shaq was causing havoc in the Association immediately. It took a lot of patience and cap clearing effort, but Orlando was blessed to have the LSU legend even for just 4 years.

There will never be another Shaquille O'Neal. So much power, explosiveness, finesse, hopsexcitement, skill, hilarity, personality, versatility, and killer instinct for any opponent to overcome. O'Neal was just as godly in the playoffs. Shaq officially became a superstar during the '94-'95 season when he became the league's leading scorer. I still find it odd that Shaq was never on the All-NBA 1st team until he became a Laker. Look at O'Neal's playoff logs, and you saw a guy that would definitely lead others to championships. There was that legendary playoff duel with Hakeem.

Despite the sweep, endorsement deals, a rapping career, movie appearances, and stardom were constant summer projects by that point. O'Neal wanted to become a worldwide icon and eventually our 'small' city was holding him back.

Then of course, one of the saddest days in franchise history happened when we Magic fans witnessed the original 'decision'. O'Neal may have never brought us that championship, but I think Orlando Magic fans were gifted with his prime as a consolation prize. I do fully appreciate that Shaq still embraces Orlando as his home, and his constant charitable contributions should never be ignored.

1. Dwight 'Superman' Howard

2004-Present; 567 games played; 566 starts; 36.0 mpg; 18.3 ppg; 12.9 rpg; 1.5 apg; 1.0 2.2 spg; bpg; 57.6% FG shooting. 

Slow and steady wins the race. 'D12' did it. If he never laces up for Orlando ever again, he's the best center in franchise history. Let's hope we see the new school Superman in Magic pinstripes after this NBA Lockout. A 5-time All-Star selection, 3 consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards, and a 4-time All-NBA 1st Team honoree. Oh yeah, and he won a dunk contest. Considering he was a raw high school kid that barely weighed 235 when drafted, 'D-Flight' was never going to have the blistering start to his career as Shaq accomplished. Emeka Okafor who? Thank you, John Weisbrod and company.

The attributes I bestowed upon O'Neal, I can easily copy-paste into this Dwight section. Dwight's an even more athletic freak than Shaq. The kid has blossomed into a grown man right in front of us. Dwight has astounded even his best opponents. He places fear in all big men's eyes. The good news for Orlando is that Dwight doesn't have to leave our city to be a global icon since he already is one. I can for certain claim Howard is much more mature than Shaq maybe ever was and he won't make any brash free agent decisions. Oh he's still a big kid, but as long as he keeps his usual on-court demeanor, we're more than happy with that.

His training regiment (and there's always a bit of luck needed) and assertiveness are a big reason why Dwight's only missed 7 regular season games in 7 years. That type of longevity will help net you countless franchise records that I will not bore you with because of such a long list. Shaq was never the defensive force that Dwight has been. Multi-time rebounding and blocking crowns will help give you the reputation that no one will come at you in the paint. You watch Howard, and he just seems extraordinarily unreal. Which is why he's our 'Superman'.

If he masters his bank shot and makes the occasional 3 (kidding), he'll be perfect. He can do everything. Yet, he's still trying to improve himself while being an NBA world ambassador simultaneously. Dwight steps his play up to unbelievable level in the playoffs. The 2009 Finals run was D12's official coming out party. If he can stay healthy and show that continuous drive for glory, Howard will win a championship. There's little doubt about that. But will it be in Orlando? Either way, Dwight is the best Magic center in franchise history.

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