Teams involved: San Antonio Spurs, Orlando Magic
Players moving: Tim Duncan, Grant Hill, Tracy McGrady
The move that wasn’t: Duncan signs with Orlando as free agent, joining Hill and McGrady
What could have been: Another often-referenced, league-altering move nearly came together in the summer of 2000. Before Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James took their talents to South Beach, the trio of Grant Hill, Tracy McGrady and Tim Duncan discussed building a big three of their own in another Florida city.
Back in the days before restricted free agency, players became unrestricted free agents following their rookie contracts, and Duncan was exploring his options. Hill, who started his career with the Detroit Pistons, and McGrady, who began with the Toronto Raptors, were the first two players to sign with the Magic. They were recruiting Duncan to join them.
"It will be unfair to the league if all three of us come here," McGrady said at the time. "We have the East. We'll be playing the Lakers for years."
Duncan and Gregg Popovich later gave even more credence to this nearly becoming a reality. It’s especially intriguing given the departure of Shaquille O’Neal to Los Angeles just a few years earlier, creating a cross-coast rivalry.
Would the added ability of Duncan been enough to keep Hill off the injury list, with his usage decreasing? Would his leadership have been the same without learning under the Popovich tree for the next decade?
The Spurs would not have been able to maintain their level of consistency without Duncan. That much is clear. San Antonio struggled to attract free agents even with Duncan, and with him in Orlando, the Spurs may not even have a team right now had the future not been prosperous.
As for the Magic, there is no certainty given Hill’s injury history, but even Duncan and McGrady together would have been an interesting dynamic to watch, mirroring Kobe and Shaq in Los Angeles.