Thank you again Tim Povtak for yet another efficient Magic piece. Few NBAers were helped out from the Lockout as much as Penny Hardaway. Anfernee was staring down at his career possibly being over. Then the skills of Dr. James Andrews seemed to give Penny an extra lift for the 50-game '98-'99 season.
That and the fact Penny had so much time to heal up and rehab. Chuck Daly was able to finally show off what he could do with a fairly healthy roster, and what acampaign that was (up until the playoffs).
Penny Hardaway finally is himself again.
After a season of injuries, a spring of trade rumors, and a summer of tedious rehabilitation, Hardaway returned to full-court scrimmaging this week for the first time in six months, thrilled to feel whole once again.
Although he had been shooting by himself for weeks, doctors officially just cleared him to begin the rigors of NBA basketball, cutting him loose to do all the running, jumping, stopping and starting he wants.
Hardaway, an NBA All-Star the past four years, played only 19 games last season for the Magic, slowed by left knee surgery early and a frustrating left calf problem later.
``Everything feels good. I feel healthy and strong again,'' Hardaway said Wednesday from Memphis, Tenn., where he will spend this month playing basketball several times a week. ``I'm feeling real positive about everything. By the time the season starts, everything will be just fine.''
Because of the NBA lockout, the Magic have not been permitted to speak with Hardaway or any other player. The players also are not permitted to use team facilities. Hardaway has been in the care of several doctors, including James Andrews, a well-known orthopedic surgeon in Birmingham, Ala.
``Doctors have told me I still might have some residual pain from the layoff, but nothing at all to worry about,'' Hardaway said. ``Things are really looking up. I can't wait to get things started again.''
Hardaway is one of just four players the Magic have signed for this season. The others are Horace Grant, Bo Outlaw and Nick Anderson.
The Magic had hoped to be active this summer in the free-agent market, re-signing a few of their own players and pursuing some new ones. The lockout that began July 1 put everything on hold.
The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association are scheduled to reopen negotiations today on a new collective bargaining agreement. The owners imposed a lockout July 1 under terms of the contract reached in 1995 that permitted the owners to renegotiate the agreement if player income exceeded 52 percent of the league's basketball related income.
``I'm sure the talks won't go into the start of the season,'' Hardaway said. ``I don't think the league or the players would allow that to happen. I don't think either side could afford to do that.''
Before the lockout, Hardaway had suggested to the Magic that they pursue free-agent center Ike Austin and free-agent small forward Cedric Ceballos, filling two holes in the Magic's roster. Both players can score.
Although Hardaway hasn't spoken to Magic coaches or management in weeks, he has been in close contact with teammate Anderson, who is expected to be starting alongside Hardaway in the backcourt this season.
``Penny is as excited as I've heard him in a long time,'' Anderson said. ``He's playing every day, and I think he's coming back with the idea that he has something to prove, that he can be the old Penny Hardaway again.''
Hardaway averaged just 16.4 points last season, obviously affected by injuries. The previous season he played only 59 games, troubled by an earlier knee problem. In his first three seasons in the league, he played 82, 77 and 82 games. He was named first-team All-NBA twice.
Hardaway has the option of becoming a free agent after this season, looking forward to the chance to re-evaluate his worth.
``I don't really feel like I have something to prove this season. It's just that some of the things people were saying the last year about me were a little unfair,'' he said.
``People were writing me off without knowing the situation. This year, I just want to go out and show again the kind of player I really am.''