Worst free agent signing in Phoenix Suns history: Penny Hardaway
7 Years, $86.7 million
The Orlando Magic of the 1990s were a team stacked with talent, as Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway in their early primes were forces to be reckoned with.
Even after O’Neal left for the Los Angeles Lakers, the Magic kept on rolling, with Hardaway playing out in the playoffs and leading the Magic to strong finishes every season he was healthy.
That is an important qualifier for Hardaway, “when he was healthy,” because his career took a dive for the worst as issues with his knees increased. He missed most of the 1997-98 NBA season due to a knee injury, and it clearly bothered him despite a strong 1998-99 NBA season. Yet ,the prospect of more knee damage did not scare off the Phoenix Suns.
Reportedly at the urging of Jason Kidd, the Suns went after Hardaway, working out a sign-and-trade in the summer of 1999. As part of the deal, Hardaway inked a seven-year, $86.7 million contract with the Suns that would soon look like an albatross once Hardaway was no longer a star.
Phoenix branded the pairing “Backcourt 2000” as the turn of the century approached. Both dealt with nagging injuries in their first season, but still made the playoffs and knocked off the defending champion San Antonio Spurs before losing to the eventual champion Lakers and Hardaway’s old teammate O’Neal.
The next season was when everything officially fell apart. Hardaway had two microfracture surgeries on his left knee, and he played in just four games all season.
By the time he returned this time around, he was significantly diminished, never again the same dynamic offensive force that he was once upon a time. The Suns traded him to the New York Knicks in 2004, ready to move forward with the flexibility given by that trade. “Backcourt 2000” never got off the ground.