O'Neal became a free agent after the 1995–96 NBA season.
In the summer of 1996, O'Neal was named to the United States Olympic basketball team, and was later part of the gold medal-winning team at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
He was named the 1993 NBA Rookie of the Year and became the first rookie to be voted an All-Star starter since Michael Jordan in 1985.
The Magic finished 41–41, winning 20 more games than the previous season; however, the team ultimately missed the playoffs by virtue of a tie-breaker with the Indiana Pacers.
On more than one occasion during the year, Sports Illustrated writer Jack Mc Callum overheard O'Neal saying, "We've got to get [head coach] Matty [Guokas] out of here and bring in [assistant] Brian [Hill]." O'Neal improved his scoring average to 29.4 points (second in the league to David Robinson) while leading the NBA in field goal percentage at 60%.
On November 20, 1993, against the New Jersey Nets, O'Neal registered the first triple-double of his career, recording 24 points to go along with career highs of 28 rebounds and 15 blocks.
O'Neal was injured for a great deal of the 1995–96 season, missing 28 games.