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Hardaway, O’Neal, Anderson, Horace Grant and Dennis Scott led the team to the 1995 NBA Finals, where they were swept by Hakeem Olajuwon’s Houston Rockets. But O’Neal left via free agency in 1996. And Hardaway followed in 1999. His departure was acrimonious. On Friday, Hardaway said he wishes he never left. “That was just an emotional kid just being spoiled,” Hardaway said. “That’s not even my element or my norm. I usually try to fight through things, and I didn’t fight through. And I regret that to this day. I would have cherished [it] more here because we had some really awesome teams, some super teams, and I took it for granted. I thought we were going to be together for the rest of our careers. I never thought Shaq would leave, and then after that, everything just fell apart.”
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It still pains Penny Hardaway to think about what might have been. What if Shaquille O’Neal never left the Orlando Magic to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers? What if Hardaway hadn’t gotten hurt? And what if Hardaway didn’t leave the Magic to join the Phoenix Suns? The mid-1990s Magic had that much promise. “Every time I watch the footage, man, I just get tears in my eyes because there’s always that what if if we would have all stayed together,” Hardaway said.