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Penny gets his shots in, too

Magic fans don't let up in taunting Hardaway in his Orlando return. But his 21 points help Phoenix win 117-113.

The fans came to boo a Penny, and they got four quarters' worth.

Penny Hardaway, returning to the Orlando Arena for the first time since signing a seven-year, $86-million contract and being traded to the Phoenix Suns on Aug. 4, was serenaded with a continuous chorus of boos and jeers Monday night.

Most of the announced 13,677 in attendance howled at Hardaway every time he touched the ball, and that was often. They whistled every time he got to the free-throw line, and that was frequently. They catcalled every time he scored, and that was a lot.

The crescendo reached its peak in the fourth quarter when Hardaway tried to dunk on reserve forward Pat Garrity, only to have the ball shoved back. Garrity was one of the players who came over from Phoenix in the deal.

Hardaway had the last laugh. Labeled soft by his critics, he shrugged off every unkind noise and finished with 21 points to help the Suns beat the Magic 117-113. He hit 5 of 14 from the field and 11 of 14 from the line.

Cliff Robinson led the Suns with 28 points, and Jason Kidd had 20 points and 14 assists.

Tariq Abdul-Wahad, who had the assignment of guarding Hardaway, had 19 points. Darrell Armstrong led the Magic with 26 points and 11 assists.

Though the loss dropped Orlando to 20-26 and halted a three-game winning streak, the outcome seemed less significant than Hardaway's appearance.

"Nobody wants to be booed," Magic coach Doc Rivers said. "I don't care who you are. I don't care what Penny Hardaway says, that it doesn't affect you. It might not affect your play, but it definitely hurts your feelings. That's human nature. I think it does bother you, no matter what you say."

Even before tipoff, Hardaway voiced his bitterness. The four-time All-Star, who was seen as a key figure in the franchise's championship hopes, spared no one his venom. He lashed out at the Magic organization for what he described as a lack of respect and an indication that the team never wanted him back this season. He was particularly harsh on owner Rich DeVos.

"From Mr. DeVos going in the paper and saying, "(Penny) thinks he's worth more than he is. Let him go ahead and try the free-agent market!' I never went to Mr. DeVos at all. He went at me. He did his thing," Hardaway said.

"If you're going to dare me that nobody will pay the max, which you weren't (going to do), if somebody does, should I come back? You give up on me, then I've got to give up on you."

Rivers said the situation was virtually irreparable by the time he was hired June 7 to replace Chuck Daly.

"I was fighting a losing battle," Rivers said. "The bottom line was that that happened before I got here. The management told him to go take a look at Phoenix. Once you tell a player that, he's gone. He might not go to Phoenix, but he isn't coming back because in his mind you just told him to go ahead and seek his own interest (elsewhere).

"I made a hard sale to management to try to get him, but it was too late. I was fighting an uphill battle on that one, both ways, both management and Penny. They both (wanted him gone)."

Hardaway also blamed management for dismantling a franchise that made it to the NBA finals in 1995 with Hardaway and Shaquille O'Neal, who left for the Lakers in the summer of 1996. He said the precedent would severely hamper the Magic's hopes of rebuilding through signing free agents.

"I don't understand why somebody would want to come here anyway," he said. "If somebody already is in a situation, just because they have room under the (salary) cap and lottery picks, why would somebody come here after I'm gone and Shaq's gone. What does that say?"

The 28-year-old, who spent his first five seasons with the Magic and enjoyed the franchise's best moments, was equally critical of the fans.

"I'm going to tell the truth," he said. "This town can't handle the stars. It's a known fact, they just can't handle the stars."

Magic trade pair to Nuggets

Orlando traded forward Chris Gatling and guard Tariq Abdul-Wahad along with a first round pick to the Denver Nuggets for Chauncey Billups, Ron Mercer and former Magic draft pick Johnny Taylor.

Both Gatling and Abdul-Wahad played in Monday night's loss and were informed of the trade after the game.

"I've been traded before," Gatling said as he shook hands with Magic personnel on his way out of the building. "It's not something that's new to me. It's life. It's a business. I have to go meet my new teammates. I love Orlando and the fans have treated me well."