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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Penny Hardaway has emerged as a serious candidate to become the next head coach of the Orlando Magic, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.

Hardaway has interviewed with Orlando, the team he starred for from 1993-1999, and is currently the head coach at Memphis, his alma mater. 

After the news broke on Sunday, people are reacting to the possibility that Hardaway may leave his hometown.

“He rejuvenated, he brought back the excitement to Tiger Nation. He just got through winning the NIT,” said Harold Byrd, Highland Hundred Booster.

Hardaway has had a modest degree of success at Memphis. He hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament, but in three years, he has never won fewer than 20 games and has a total record of 63-32, a better record than his predecessor at Memphis, Tubby Smith, who won a national championship at Kentucky.

Hardaway’s best chance at true contention for the national championship came in the 2019-20 season, but was wiped away when top recruit James Wiseman withdrew from the university to prepare for the NBA Draft after the NCAA suspended him for 12 games. 

Nevertheless the one job that might be able to lure him away from Memphis, is an opportunity to be the head coach job of the Orlando Magic, which drafted Penny back in 1993, and he played six seasons in Orlando.

“That was where he started. If it were a different NBA team, it might be totally different. But this is a unique situation where Penny was as loved in Orlando as he was in Memphis,” Byrd said.

WREG acquired Penny’s newest contract extension back in December. Hardaway is scheduled to make $2.3 million next season, with more than $12 million due over the next five years.

That would be on the low end of NBA head coaching deals, but big boosters in Memphis could open their wallets if that’s what it takes to keep their man.

“It would be extraneous to the money. The University of Memphis and this city would do what it takes to keep Penny here,” Byrd said.

Part of Hardaway’s appeal to the Magic, specifically, stems from his very successful stint as a player in Orlando. Hardaway made four All-Star teams and was named a First-Team All-NBA player twice in Orlando.

He led the Magic to their first NBA Finals appearance in 1995 alongside Shaquille O’Neal. As the franchise enters a rebuilding period, hiring a team legend could energize a fan base that has not seen real contention since Dwight Howard was traded in 2012. 

The Magic have interviewed a number of candidates for their coaching position, including former Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts, Denver Nuggets assistant Wes Unseld Jr. and former Brooklyn Nets coach Kenny Atkinson.

They will ultimately hire the coach they believe is best suited for the younger roster they are likely to build in the coming years. Hardaway’s collegiate experience gives him a leg up on that front, and his time with the Magic gives him a strong understanding of the market and franchise.

The fit makes sense on several levels, and now, it is up to Hardaway to sell the Magic on it.