Even though we were in the middle of the lockout, that didn't stop Isaac Austin from expressing his desire to play for the Orlando Magic. After all, it was Penny Hardaway (who was still healing) who recruited hard to nab a 'quality' center. The Magic would sign Austin once the work stoppage concluded. Ike would only spend that one shortened season in Orlando.
The Magic front office didn't want to completely lay their hopes on young guys Michael Doleac and Keon Clark (who would be traded before playing a game for us). In theory, it would have been a superb move if Ike was in better shape. Instead it was just a good signing as Ike looked mediocre at best in our first round playoff series exit.
Isaac Austin - clearly the best free-agent center available - wants to play in Orlando next season, waiting only for the NBA lockout to end and for the Magic to clear enough salary-cap space to afford him.
Austin, who is working out daily in Phoenix, told agent Paco Belassen this week that he wants back in the Eastern Conference and that the lure of playing with Penny Hardaway is significant.
``Almost every team in the league wants to talk with him when the lockout ends, but he's only got his eye on a few. And Orlando is at the top,'' Belassen said Tuesday.
``He knows the Magic would be a good fit for him. He'd love to play there, and I think they'd love to have him.''
During the lockout, teams are prohibited from signing, talking with or even discussing free agents. Magic General Manager John Gabriel is on vacation, but his interest in Austin is well-known.
Hardaway has encouraged Magic management several times to pursue Austin.
``He could help us, no question about that,'' Hardaway said. ``I've seen what he can do.''
Austin, who turned 29 Tuesday, averaged 13.5 points and 7.8 rebounds last season. He began the season as a backup center with the Miami Heat, who traded him to the Los Angeles Clippers at midseason. In Los Angeles, he averaged 15.2 points and 8.9 rebounds.
``He and Hardaway together would be one of the best combinations in the league,'' Belassen said. ``There is a respect between them already because they are friends. And they both know it will be difficult for Orlando to get to the next level without a good center.''
Belassen conceded that money - not enough salary-cap space - could prevent Austin from signing with the Magic. They are expected to be an estimated $5 million under the cap when free-agent signings begin, and Austin likely will be offered more elsewhere.
The Magic could create more room, but only if they make a significant trade or they renounce the rights to all their free agents, including Derek Strong and Darrell Armstrong, two players they had hoped to re-sign.
``I think the Magic would have to get creative, but they could do it,'' Belassen said.
``Once the lockout ends, they'll have to act quickly.''
The Magic have made finding their next starting center the top priority this summer.
They gave Rony Seikaly to the New Jersey Nets last season, getting nothing significant in return. They finished with Danny Schayes starting at center. Schayes, though, is 39, and if he returns, he will be in a backup role.
They drafted Utah center Michael Doleac (6 feet 11) and Nevada-Las Vegas center/forward Keon Clark (6-11) in the first round, although they still want a veteran starter.
Austin, 6-11, 270, has played effectively at center and power forward, showing good versatility after a poor start to his pro career.
He was drafted by the Jazz in 1991 (from Arizona State), but he hardly played and failed with the Utah Jazz and Philadelphia 76ers because of weight problems. He moved overseas, where he played in France and Turkey.
He returned to the NBA with the Miami Heat in 1996, losing more than 40 pounds to become an effective backup at both positions. The Heat traded him last season because complex salary- cap rules likely would have prevented them from re-signing him this summer.
The Clippers have said they want to re-sign him. The Phoenix Suns, Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, Minnesota Timberwolves, Sacramento Kings and the Jazz are among the teams that also will pursue him strongly.
``I don't know that he liked it in Los Angeles,'' Belassen said. ``He didn't know if the team was committed to winning. And there always has been talk that he wants to go to Utah because of his friendship with Karl Malone. But that's just not true. They won't have the money. I think he'd like to go back to Florida. It's just going to take a little more than palm trees and sunshine to get him.''