Imagine if Tim Duncan joined the Orlando Magic. Would the San Antonio Spurs have been the same dynasty? What about Magic? Needless to say, Duncan is such a generational player that the Magic would be in the same conversation as some of the greatest franchises of all time if he signed for them instead of Spurs.
In 2000, Duncan considered signing with the Magic to play alongside Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill. Given that Shaquill O’Neal had recently left, this would have been a big three that could have contended with Shaq and Kobe Bryant. But, the deal never unfolded because head coach Doc Rivers denied Duncan’s request to allow his family to join the team plan to go to games, which ultimately ended any chance of him going to Orlando.
Doc Rivers Explains What Happened
Doc Rivers had just led the Magic to a 41-41 record and won Coach of the Year after his first season leading the team. Duncan was a free agent and was getting courted by the Magic so that he could play with McGrady and Hill. At the time, Hill was coming off a successful season with the Pistons, where he averaged 25.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 5.2 assists. Duncan liked the possibility of what the team could do with the three players.
While some rules are bent for superstars, Rivers was not going to bend the rule that the team plane was not a place for wives or girlfriends. The report suggests that Duncan didn’t like that, and Rivers details the conversation a little differently.
“That story is not told correctly. We talked about it. I told him absolutely families can fly, just not all the time. Families can fly every once in a while, so the story is not correct.”
Rivers said that despite that disagreement, Duncan was going to join the Magic. However, Duncan had loyalty to head coach Gregg Popovich and wanted to have his last meeting with the team. Rivers said that was the moment one of his colleagues said that Rivers lost his chance.
“As a matter of fact, I remember the most was that Tim looked at me and said I am pretty sure I am coming to the Magic,” said Rivers. “He said I just need to go back to San Antonio because I love Pop and want to have my last meeting…… I want to say I called John Calipari and he asked ‘did you get him?” I told him I think we got him and that Tim wanted to go back and talk to Pop. He said, ‘well you lost him.’ We have one rule on campus and that is don’t let the kid leave campus without signing him.”
Duncan ended up going back to have one last meeting with the Spurs. Popovich and David Robinson were on a trip to Hawaii and cut it short to meet with Duncan.
“Pop later told me that he and David Robinson flew in from Hawaii and they sold Tim to stay,” said Rivers.
The following three seasons, the Magic would make the playoffs, but lose in the first round. In 2003-2004, the Magic would start the year 1-10 and Rivers would ultimately be let go. Meanwhile, the Spurs would make the Conference Finals in 2001 and then the NBA championship in 2003. Duncan would further go on to win titles in 2005, 2007, and 2014 as well.
Grant Hill And Tracy McGrady On What Could Have Been If The Magic Landed Tim Duncan
Rivers made a good point that Duncan joining the Spurs could have been a similar situation to Kawhi Leonard a few years ago. Duncan was coming off winning a championship with the Spurs in 1999 and would be joining two future Hall of Famers. Leonard left the Spurs a year after making the Conference Finals but was a former NBA Finals MVP. Leonard went on to join the Raptors for a season and help the team win a title in 2019.
However, the dream team in Orlando never came to fruition. In an appearance on ESPN’s The Jump, Hill conflicted with Rivers’ report on what happened. According to Hill, he was at the dinner when Rivers was selling Duncan on joining Orlando and that the mood of the table was different after Rivers denied the request.
“I was there,” said Hill. “I made my visit with Tim Duncan and I was at that dinner. When someone in Tim’s entourage asked Doc if significant others could travel on the plane, and Doc said no, the energy at the table was…… My wife said that he should have just lied.”
Based on McGrady’s reaction, you could see that the heartbreak still stings 21 years later. McGrady didn’t comment on the situation. All he could do was laugh and hold his chest. Clearly, he has thought about what the team could have been if Rivers had said yes.
What Could Have Been
The combination of McGrady and Duncan would have likely been better than the Philadelphia 76ers. At the time, the 76ers made an improbable run led by MVP Allen Iverson, who was the only true superstar on that team. McGrady and Duncan would have moved through the Eastern Conference. Imagine if Hill doesn’t get hurt either. If this union happened, we might not be talking about the three-peat in Los Angeles, while the legacy of Kobe Bryant and Shaq would have taken a serious hit.
In the end, Duncan stayed with the Spurs, while Hill battled through injuries during his tenure in Orlando. In 2000, Hill played just four games, while McGrady averaged 26.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 4.6 assists. Even if Hill was out for the year, the tandem of McGrady and Duncan might have been enough to lead the team to the NBA Finals. It turns out that the meeting went well enough to keep Duncan in town. The trio of Popovich, Robinson, and Duncan would go on to win another title in 2003 together, which included Duncan winning the regular season MVP.