The noise has died down some in the back halls of the Amway Center after Stan Van Gundy dropped the bombshell that he knew Dwight Howard had gone to management and asked the team to fire him. The media took it and ran with it, especially after Dwight Howard unwittingly approached Van Gundy during the same media gathering and then looked befuddled when members of the media questioned him about it thereafter.
It appears that the Magic, Van Gundy and Howard reached some agreement on how they would proceed with dealing with these rumors for the rest of the season. No decision about Van Gundy’s future will be made until after the season ends. While the Magic have played better since that announcement, nobody is expecting a whole ton out of this team.
They certainly do not have the championship aspirations they espouse and need to reach to achieve their No. 1 goal: keeping Dwight Howard in a Magic uniform long term.
It seems inevitable that Van Gundy, thanks to the team’s disappointing Playoff performance last year and the team’s continued fall from the list of contenders, will not be the head coach of the Magic in 2013.
Van Gundy told the Orlando Sentinel that he hopes to remain the coach next year. With how wacky the Magic’s front office has been the past year — reports stated management was prepared to trade Dwight Howard before the season and at the trade deadline before ownership nixed it and dug in to keep the superstar center — you cannot put anything past them. That might include digging itself out of this mess with Van Gundy and Howard still in Orlando.
One Magic executive believes that the Van Gundy-Howard relationship can be saved enough to keep the two together for next year.
“Finish well and then have a wonderful run in the playoffs — that would probably cure most of the issues,” Pat Williams told the Associated Press earlier this week. “I don’t know that you can find a better NBA coach than Stan Van Gundy out there. I think this shook them both up — that’s my opinion. I think they’re going to be better for it.”
That is what you hope would happen in a normal professional relationship. If two people have a disagreement, you hope they can come together, talk about them and move forward. Considering that Van Gundy and Howard are 256-130 (.663 win percentage) in five seasons together, it is a relationship that has been beneficial for both teams.
This is not some normal professional relationship though. This is a relationship where the star player went behind the coach’s back — and maybe even the general manager’s back — to go to ownership and request his coach get fired. This is a relationship where the coach, with little prompting, spilled the beans as to what is going on behind the curtain of a franchise in turmoil.
This is a relationship that seems far beyond the point of saving. This seems like a relationship where it is just time for the parties to mutually split. The Magic have clearly chosen Dwight Howard in this battle of wills between star player and coach.
What actually happened in Orlando is still pretty unclear. As Steve Kyler of HoopsWorld reported, and a source confirmed with me, Howard and his representatives broached the subject of Stan Van Gundy’s future once the lockout was lifted and the team got the lay of where Dwight Howard wanted to go this season. At this point, according to Kyler, Howard and his representatives made it clear that they did not believe they could win long-term with Van Gundy as the coach.
That is despite all the success — a Finals appearance in 2009 and an Eastern Conference Finals appearance in 2010 to go with four straight 50-win seasons and the longest sustained success in Magic history — the two have had together.
Whether Howard renewed that request at some point this season or let his feelings about Van Gundy rest with that meeting in December is unclear. What Van Gundy made clear last Thursday is that he has been coaching with this air hanging above him all season.
That does not completely close the door that Van Gundy will return. Yes, there are rumors that Van Gundy’s future is already sealed or that Van Gundy had even considered resigning outright at the end of the year, but no decision is final until it is, well, final.
A deep Playoff run, some changes to the roster and some crafty persuasion from Magic CEO Alex Martins might save this relationship and keep one of the best coaches and one of the best players on his roster could change the equation a whole bunch.
As rosy as Williams likes to look at the world, the reality is that it will take a lot to save this relationship with Orlando. And even Stan Van Gundy seems to see the writing on the wall.