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By the end of the 1995-96 season, it was clear the Orlando Magic had one of the youngest, most promising cores in the league — of the five guys who logged over 30 minutes per game that season, the average age of them was 26. Their past two seasons included one Finals appearance, two Eastern Conference Finals appearances, and a combined regular season record of 117-47 (.713). They also had two of the most promising young stars in the league on their roster — Penny Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal.
Despite this, over the next four years the Orlando Magic missed the playoffs twice, and in the two seasons they did make it, failed to advance past the first round. To be fair to Orlando, it’s worth mentioning that those four years came after losing one of the most dominant players the game has ever seen.
In July 1996, Shaquille O’Neal had agreed to a seven-year deal with the Lakers, worth over $120 million.
Shaq wasn’t the only player who signed a big deal that summer. Horace Grant had just signed a big extension with the Magic, merely days before O’Neal would sign with L.A.
Horace recently appeared on a Grantland podcast with Bill Simmons where he talked about playing with Jordan, Kobe, and Shaq himself.
Grant spoke of one particular moment from his NBA career that he wished he could re-live: he said that not long before Shaq signed with L.A, he missed a call from him, and didn’t return it until after O’Neal had agreed to the deal. Horace thought that had he answered that call, things might have played out differently, and perhaps he would have been able to convince Shaq to stay in Orlando, where they undoubtedly would have built a dynasty.