NBA fans often like to ponder “what if” scenarios. What if Derrick Rose didn’t tear his ACL in the 2012 playoffs? What if the Warriors lost to the Thunder in the 2016 Western Conference Finals? How about if Shaq and Kobe never broke up? These are just some of the biggest “what ifs” in NBA history. One that gets lost in all these imaginary scenarios is Tim Duncan of the Spurs signing with the Orlando Magic and joining Tracy McGrady in the summer of 2000.
At this point, it’s almost unthinkable to envision Duncan in a different uniform other than the San Antonio Spurs’ silver, black, and white. Likewise, it certainly didn’t seem likely that Duncan would leave San Antonio since he just won an NBA championship with them with the year before. However, according to the 5-time NBA champion, the move came closer to happening than a lot realize.
Duncan became a free agent in the 2000 off-season. The Orlando Magic had created enough cap space to pry away the Spurs superstar from San Antonio. Duncan and the Magic almost inked the deal, a reported six-year $67.5 million contract.
However, it’s apparently former coach Doc Rivers’ fault why Duncan didn’t push through. The 1997 first overall pick reportedly wanted to have his significant other join him during team flights. Rivers, however, disallowed it. That became the reason why Timmy D turned down the massive offer from Orlando and chose to remain in San Antonio.
Of course, as it turned out, the Spurs eventually created a dynasty and won four more championships with Duncan at the helm. Orlando, meanwhile, has yet to win its first title in franchise history. But with this close-to-reality scenario, let’s take a glimpse at what the NBA could have looked if Duncan signed with the Magic in the summer of 2000.
Orlando Magic become perennial contenders, possibly displace Spurs
Duncan going to the Magic would have obviously made a seismic shift in the league and altered the history of the NBA as we knew it. Orlando had just signed Grant Hill and a budding superstar in Tracy McGrady at the time. By signing an ultimate winner in Duncan, the Magic would have emerged as perennial favorites to win the East for multiple years.
With the Spurs, Duncan went up against the likes of Chris Webber, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, and Shaquille O’Neal. The East, meanwhile, didn’t have the same star power that the West had in terms of big men. Thus, a team led by the most dominant big in the East would have been a force in the conference.
With Duncan, it’s also not hard to imagine the Magic winning at least one NBA championship, considering the cast of stars they have in place. Even if Hill still had his bad luck with ankle injuries, Duncan and McGrady would have been enough to propel them to the multiple Finals appearances, at least.
With just T-Mac leading the way and Hill suffering through severe ankle issues, the early 2000’s Magic just hovered around the bottom playoff spots in the East. Duncan could have been the piece to propel them into the upper echelon of the conference.
Of course, that’s considering Orlando also had a good cast to surround Duncan and McGrady. The Magic already had a budding sharpshooter in Mike Miller, who eventually won Rookie of the Year in 2000-01. Signing Duncan would have certainly altered their roster moves and draft choices to accommodate the presence of the superstar big men. And yes, Dwight Howard would have not gone to Orlando in 2004.
Spurs dynasty no more
Tim Duncan anchored the Spurs for nearly two decades and led them to playoff appearances in each of his 19 seasons in San Antonio. Obviously, with Duncan leaving, it’s likely that the dynasty would unfold as soon as their franchise superstar headed out of town.
San Antonio would likely not win their championships in 2003, 2005, and 2007 as it still recovers from the loss of the 1999 Finals MVP. As they have proved through the years, the Spurs front office has a great eye for talent. They often finds hidden gems such as Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, both of whom turned in Hall of Fame careers alongside Duncan in San Antonio. However, much of their roster acquisitions centered around Duncan. There’s no knowing whether they would have found the same success in finding unknown stars without their foundational piece.
Likewise, Duncan is the consummate professional. Replacing his winning attitude, unselfishness, and team first mentality would have been the most difficult to replace.
Shaq vs. Duncan. Kobe vs. T-Mac. Let your imagination run wild on how epic these match-ups would have been.
The Lakers were the team to beat in the early 2000’s, having won three straight titles to start the decade. Shaquille O’Neal was the most dominant force in the league, while Kobe Bryant became one of the most exciting young stars in the NBA. The Shaq-Kobe tandem became one the best one-two punch combinations in the history of the league.
Had Duncan signed in Orlando, he would have formed the same with Tracy McGrady. As mentioned earlier, it’s not hard to picture the Duncan-McGrady-led Magic to come out of the East each and every year. That means they would have faced the Shaq and Kobe Lakers for multiple years, perhaps possibly for those three years Los Angeles won the title.
Moreover, there’s this little underlying story line with O’Neal leaving Disney World for the brighter lights of Hollywood in 1996. This would have added additional drama to what could have been the hottest rivalry of the 2000’s.
Butterfly effect involving Spurs
Certainly, the NBA as we know it today would have been much different. A ton of history would have changed. But assuming other things went the way did, such as Shaq and Kobe eventually splitting, Orlando-Miami could have been the rivalry of the East in the mid-2000’s. Moreover, a team like the Phoenix Suns, who were often stopped on their tracks by the Spurs, could have at least made the NBA Finals (and probably faced Duncan there, too).
Likewise, there are a ton of other questions that would remain a mystery. Would the 2004 Pistons have won a title by running into Duncan in the East? Could the Boston Celtics Big Three have emerged earlier, as Kevin Garnett hinted in the past? Would Duncan even find the same success in Orlando as he did with the Spurs. We wouldn’t know.
All these “what if” scenarios are exciting to think about. Unfortunately, all we can do is imagine. Nonetheless, it’s safe to say that Spurs fans are happy with the way history turned out.