DAR Sports: What If Shaq and Penny Never Split Up?

Introduction By @TrueGodImmortal
-Today is going to be a little different. In basketball, we tend to always wonder about the "what if" based upon how things turned out. When a team loses a player or misses signing a player, or say a legend retired too early, we often wonder what would have happened if the opposite occurred. So, this begins a new series of NBA "What If" scenarios presented to paint the picture of what would have happened, how it would have played out, and likely the end results. Keeping it simple today, we start with one "What If" scenario, but try to make this scenario as in depth as possible. Let's kick off this new article series.

I was sitting at home, watching the ESPN 30 for 30 on the Orlando Magic entitled This Magic Moment, when the question came up: what if Shaq never left the Orlando Magic? What if the Magic disregarded what the fans thought and offered Shaq 100 plus million upfront to keep the services of the big man? What if Penny Hardaway could maintain his health and Shaq could also stay healthy? Imagine Shaq in Orlando for 7 years as a part of the franchise and the face of the team. Before we get into the intricate points, paths, likely outcomes, and how it would have turned out, let's have some of the team chime in.

The Orlando Magic from 1993 to 1996 was one of the most interesting teams in the league. An expansion team that started shop in 1989 and quickly grew to be one of the top teams in the East and the NBA. They were led by All-Stars Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway, as well as solid core of Nick Anderson, Horace Grant, Brian Shaw, and Dennis Scott. While we see them as the up and coming team of the 90’s, they’re also a team filled with what ifs. The biggest one would be what if Shaq and Penny never split?

Shaq and Penny were supposed to be what Shaq and Kobe turned out to be in L.A. years later. That dominant force that led to titles. If they never would’ve split up, then I think the Orlando Magic would have had about 3 or 4 titles under their belt. Yes, they would’ve given the Bulls a run for their money and possibly even prevent Jordan and the Bulls from winning their 5th or 6th title.

If Shaq and Penny never split up, you also don’t have the Lakers dynasty in the 2000’s. The Lakers were already up and coming out west, but with no Shaq, you could make the argument that the Lakers wouldn’t become what they were at that time. I say maybe because Jerry West did one heck of a job building that team.

What would've happened if Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway never split up is something constantly asked today in the NBA. Even a documentary was made about their short yet very successful time together. Now, DAR will discuss and share their opinions and views on what would've happened had they stayed together. What would've happened? Well, Kobe Bryant would be short 3 rings, and so would the Los Angeles Lakers. However, Shaq probably would've retired ringless. Why? Penny would've still got injured. Since Shaq claimed to love Orlando so much, he most likely would've stayed as long as possible to help build it into a contender. Well... about that. No. Leaving Orlando was the best decision Shaq could've ever made and Orlando is stupid for losing a player like that. Seriously. Just give him whatever money he wants.

Anyways, Shaq still would've been very successful individually, with maybe even better stats, since he has no Kobe to take shots away and a injured banged up Penny. As far a championships for the duo... nah. That's just the truth, or would've been.

Now, let's look at some scenarios.

Scenarios By @TrueGodImmortal

*Paths To A Title For Orlando
-The demoralizing factor of the 1995 Finals sweep is what essentially did the young and still growing Magic in. I've always believe that if the Rockets and Magic series had ended with a game 1 victory for the Magic that Penny and Shaq would have won the championship. Nick Anderson cost them game 1 somewhat, but the pressure falls on the lack of efficient defense on Kenny Smith that allowed the Rockets back into game 1. If the Magic would have locked Smith down and forced him to pass up the shots he kept taking, we would have saw a considerably different final quarter. A loss that heavy can be tough on the psyche and the Magic never recovered. Nick Anderson definitely didn't.

The next season, it was quite shocking to see the Bulls dominate so much, but Michael Jordan was on a mission in the 1995-1996 season. Penny and Shaq were both active, though injury began popping up, as the extreme level of play from both Shaq and Penny was taking a small toll in their young careers. There was no way that the Bulls could have been stopped by the Magic in the 1996 playoffs, nor do I think the Magic could have stopped the Bulls in the 1997 playoffs. Those are 72-10 and 69-13 teams, and that dominance was just too strong.

However, had Shaq stayed, the record of the Magic would have been much different and Penny would have maintained his health, or at least not gotten injured carrying the team on his back. Both men were entering their primes during this time and I'd have expected the Magic to go 58-24 if Shaq would have stayed, and make a push for the 3rd seed in the East over the Knicks in the postseason. They would have ran into a wall against the Bulls in the 1997 playoffs, but they would have taken them to 6 games and with youth still on their side, they'd regroup and come back for the 1997-1998 season, which is where I think they would excel.

The Bulls weren't quite the same dominant team they were in 1996 and 1997(still the most dominant in the East, but had close competition that year). With Shaq hitting his prime, Penny mostly healthy, and signing another role player to push forward, I'd have seen this as the year that the Magic would stop the Bulls, going 60-22 to claim the 2nd seed in the East and setting up another showdown with the Bulls in the Conference Finals. This was the same season that the Lakers with Shaq went 61-21 having Kobe and others by his side, so this would have been a feat for the Magic to achieve as well. A player as dominant as Shaq with a great follow up from Penny and perhaps a strong player at the 3 would have seen the Magic possibly take the Bulls out in 7 games in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Riding a wave of momentum and learning from past mistakes, this would be the year that the Magic win the championship, as they would have defeated the Utah Jazz in a 7 game series that saw them push the limit and get Shaq 10 points in the 4th quarter and a Finals MVP Award. This was the true reign of Shaq and his dominance and I think in 1998, they could have done it. The Pacers pushed the Bulls to the brink, and I think with the right focus, the Magic could have took out the Bulls in the Conference Finals and garnered a championship.

*After The Title
After the 1998 season however, I can't see them winning another championship. As much as I love Shaq and his play, the following season, the Magic would have been taken out by the Spurs in the 1999 Finals. The Magic had a good record of 33-17 in the shortened season and with Chuck Daly at the helm, I feel like the Magic with Shaq, Penny, BJ Armstrong, Darrell Armstrong and more would have got beyond the 76ers in round 1 and made easy work of the East opposition until running into David Robinson, Tim Duncan, and the Spurs from the West. The Spurs would have beat the Magic in 5 or 6 games.

Where it gets a bit tough to examine the what if is in the 2000s. I feel like Shaq would have grown unsatisfied if the Magic went to the 2000 playoffs and lost in the first or second round, which I think would have happened. Orlando represented a sense of comfort for Shaq and Penny, but Shaq would have been looking towards the door, even with one ring. The egos would have flared up especially after the title as well. Penny had no problem playing second fiddle at times, but he was also a star in his own right. Though the egos would have been quelled until they won their first championship perhaps, one would imagine it would have grown to be just as bad as the Shaq and Kobe rift, but more lower level because Penny was such a reserved guy. For all the love and adoration of Shaq, he was a horrible team player behind the scenes, because he was all about himself. It was his team and his team only, and as we have seen throughout his career, he tends to cause conflict. While some may consider this the way to be, with Shaq having so much power in Orlando, especially after 100 million and 7 years, I suspect he would request a trade before the 2001 season or ride out his contract and head over to Miami anyways once the 7 years was up, just like he did with the Lakers.

As for Penny, the injuries would have caught up to him at some point. Perhaps not as bad, but I suspect he would have faced some issue with his ankles or knees after all the high profile dunking and crossovers he did. I would see Penny opting out or leaving the Magic not too long after Shaq did or maybe even before. Shaq was never going to finish out his career with Orlando regardless of if he stayed after the 1996 season or not. If he re-signed with the Magic in 1996, I'd see one possible championship (stopping the Bulls from having their 6th ring), and one more Finals appearance the next season before a near implosion the 2000 season based around Shaq, his ego, Penny and the lack of efficient coaching and discipline from the Magic front office.

Shaq re-signing with the Magic in 1996 would have given him far too much power over the organization. Sure, keep the big man happy and fatten his pockets, but after losing the 1997 season, and getting eliminated in the 2nd round of the 2000 playoffs, Shaq would have grown frustrated quickly. After a 2001 playoff loss to the 76ers in the Conference Finals, or maybe the Bucks in the Semifinals, Shaq would have been outspoken about what the team is lacking and probably try to fault Penny for not stepping up, and everything would have continued to fall apart. While Chuck Daly coaching the Magic could have led them to a title and another Finals appearance, it wasn't a guaranteed formula.

There is still the possibility that Shaq and Penny would have growing animosity and before long, they'd split up anyway. Essentially, the point here is that the Shaq and Penny saga was due to be split up at some point. Now, how about if they didn't win a ring?

*Shaq and Penny Win No Rings
-Let's say the flow of Shaq's career goes exactly the same except he never goes to the Lakers with Kobe, Horry, Rick Fox, Fisher and all those guys, and Phil Jackson doesn't coach him ever in his career. Shaq would have gotten a ring with D. Wade in Miami if we just keep everything else the same, but that would be it. Let's say the Magic couldn't get beyond the Bulls in 1998. Let's say the Magic run into a snag offensively and though Shaq is producing, the rest of the team suffers. You're looking at a 48-34 team regularly then. Couple this with Horace Grant getting older, Nick Anderson never recovering from missing those free throws, and many other variables and the truth is, the Magic might still be without a title in their franchise history.

The team chemistry didn't seem the same after the 1995 Finals loss and though Shaq staying would have made somewhat of a difference, there's no telling whether or not he would have been able to lead this Magic team to a title. Regardless of if Shaq re-signed with the Magic in 1996 or not, he wasn't going to be a lifelong Orlando Magic player, even if they gave him everything he wanted. Shaq was all about one man, and that was himself. When the issue with the Magic would have come up, and perhaps he didn't like the outcome of it, he would be ready to move on. Especially if he didn't have rings to relax on. Add to that the volatile history of Shaq and his teams, you're looking at a situation that could go either way.

Penny would have grown unhappy as well, likely having trouble dealing with his increasing ego and Shaq's mountain sized ego also. This is where the basketball dream scenario goes out the window and reality steps in. If things were as simple as "hey this is my team, we aren't selfish, and we want to just win", then this would be a tad easier to say in confidence that the Magic could have 3 rings if Shaq and Penny never split. Matt was quite confident, but I'm not. Melvin might be right in his assumption that the Magic would still have no rings honestly.

Outro By @TrueGodImmortal
-There's a ton of what if scenarios to cover, but I figured we should start with one of the most popular ones and put the DAR Sports spin on it. We could talk all day about what would have happened if the Suns had eliminated the Rockets while up 3-1 and went on to face the Spurs that year. We could talk all day about what if Iverson had more help on his 76ers team when they made it to the Finals. That's the beauty of sports. These discussions about the possible things that never occurred. In this case, there is no real way to tell whether or not Shaq staying would have brought Orlando a title, I mean we thought Karl Malone and Gary Payton could have brought a Lakers title home and they failed in the Finals. We thought the Bron/Wade/Bosh trio would bring not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4, but a ton of championships and while they got 2, it still didn't end the way we suspected completely. There is no way to really tell these things, but make no mistake about it, the history books would look different regardless had Shaq and Penny never split.



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