Orlando Magic v New York Knicks

Magic CEO says it’s not Howard, it’s us that wanted Van Gundy out

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Orlando Magic CEO Tony Martins tried to lay down a full field of cover for Dwight Howard on the day the Magic sent coach Stan Van Gundy and general manager Otis Smith packing.

He essentially went with the “it’s not you, it’s me” line that always works so well when you tried to break off a relationship. But goal number one was to say it was not Howard.

“Let me say in no uncertain terms that Dwight did not want to be part of this decision,” Martins said at a televised press conference announcing the firings. “He did not want to make this decision. He never asked me to make this decision. Yes, (the Howard/Van Gundy) relationship was a challenge, but Dwight Howard never asked me to fire Stan Van Gundy.”

I could get into how requests like “fire the coach or I’m gone” are never communicated directly but rather through back channels in the NBA. But really, it comes down to this: Do you think the Magic fired Van Gundy to keep their chances to re-sign Howard alive? Damn straight they did. They didn’t do it because they are going to go bring in a coach who is going to push this roster to a better record. That guy is not out there.

Is that going to be enough to keep Howard is another question. Who gets hired as coach and if the new GM can pull a rabbit out of his hat with a move that improves the roster will matter. Here is what Marc Stein of ESPN reports:

The changes alone don’t guarantee that Howard will stay, according to sources familiar with his thinking, but the prospect of Orlando hiring a proven team-builder like Donnie Walsh to mentor Adonal Foyle — and then going out and getting a coach who can try to build a better bond with Howard than Van Gundy had — at least gives Orlando some fresh hope.

Ditto for the fact that Howard, as some rival executives believe, might be more interested in nailing down some long-term security after season-ending back surgery that represents the first major injury of his career.

Martins essentially went on to say that relationship building will be key for the next Magic coach.

“Stan prepared our team as good as any coach I have ever been around in 25 years in the business. However, I also think there is another side to coaching.

“Did a lot of people get in disagreements over the course of the last five years about style? Sure. That’s what happens in this business. But the most important part is we felt strategically he was outstanding but we were looking for more out of our head coach and our basketball operations the last two years.”

It will be interesting to see who the Magic can really get. Would a veteran coach like Nate McMillan go there knowing he could be in the middle of a major rebuilding project based on Howard’s whim? Would a team executive like Walsh go if he felt the Howard situation could blow up in his face?

Martins said it was time for Howard to commit to the Magic. But it’s not that simple.

The fact is that the Magic are in trouble here — the way the new CBA is set up it is financially beneficial for Howard to become a free agent then re-sign a max deal with the Magic then to just extend his current contract (he gets an extra year). So even if Howard says he will stay he will be a free agent and can always change his mind. It would smash his already badly injured public reputation, but he could.

The Magic have let one of the best coaches in the league go. But if the hire they make gets Dwight Howard to stay it was the right move. If not… enjoy the rebuilding process.

Here is Kobe Bryant’s letter given to every fan at Lakers’ game Sunday

Los Angeles Lakers v Portland Trail Blazers
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LOS ANGELES — In a classy move — and one done in a very Kobe Bryant tone — every fan coming into Staples Center Sunday night to see the Lakers take on the Pacers received a letter from No. 24.

Inside a sealed black envelope, on quality, embossed paper, was this letter from Bryant (photo below):

When we first met I was just a kid.

Some of you took me in. Some of you didn’t.

But all of you helped e become the player and man in front of you today.

You gave me confidence to put my anger to good use.

Your doubt gave me determination to prove you wrong.

You witnessed my fears morph into strength.

Your rejection taught me courage.

Whether you view me as a hero or a villain, please know I poured every emotion, every bit of passion and my entire self into being a Laker.

What you’ve done for me is far greater than anything I’ve done for you.

I knew that each minute of each game I wore purple and gold.

I honor it as I play today and for the rest of this season.

My love for this city, this team and for each of you will never fade.

Thank you for this incredible journey.

It speaks to Kobe’s mindset over the years that he talked about the fuel from the rejection of Lakers’ fans motivating him. As a Los Angeles native (and former Laker blogger), let me tell you there was precious little rejection of Kobe from this fan base. There were questions and doubters early on, but even when Shaquille O’Neal was seen as the driving force of the team Kobe was beloved in Los Angeles. Something that continued through his trial in Colorado — Lakers fans have almost always had his back.

But Kobe finds fuel everywhere. Which is why he is a future Hall of Famer.


Jahlil Okafor tweets apology for recent off-court behavior

Jahlil Okafor

The off-court incidents have been piling up for Jahlil Okafor over the past month: first, an incident captured on video that showed Okafor getting into a fight with a heckler early Thanksgiving morning; then, a report that Okafor had a gun pulled on him in a previous incident; and finally, this morning’s report that the Sixers’ No. 3 overall pick in this June’s draft had been pulled over in recent weeks for driving 108 miles per hour in Philadelphia. Together, they aren’t a good look for the rookie.

On Sunday afternoon, Okafor apologized for his recent behavior in a series of tweets:

The recent incidents involving Okafor are surprising—going into the draft, he never had any red flags for maturity or off-the-court issues. He’s certainly saying the right things after the fact, and he’s only 19, so hopefully this is nothing more than a small rough patch where he’s made some bad decisions, and not an indicator of things to come.

Kobe Bryant announces this is his final season


LOS ANGELES — It has seemed like this was it for a while. Kobe Bryant has been frustrated; he hasn’t been able to produce like he expects — his play has been hard to watch — and the Lakers are a train wreck.

Kobe made it official Sunday via the Players’ Tribune — this is his final season. He did it via a letter called “Dear Basketball.”

You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream
And I’ll always love you for it.
But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer.
This season is all I have left to give.
My heart can take the pounding
My mind can handle the grind
But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.

And that’s OK.
I’m ready to let you go.
I want you to know now
So we both can savor every moment we have left together.
The good and the bad.
We have given each other
All that we have.

It’s not coincidental this was announced a couple days before the Lakers travel to Kobe’s hometown of Philadelphia to face the Sixers. Also remember Kobe is an investor in The Players’ Tribune.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver quickly released this statement:

“With 17 NBA All-Star selections, an NBA MVP, five NBA championships with the Lakers, two Olympic gold medals and a relentless work ethic, Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players in the history of our game.  Whether competing in the Finals or hoisting jump shots after midnight in an empty gym, Kobe has an unconditional love for the game.

“I join Kobe’s millions of fans around the world in congratulating him on an outstanding NBA career and thank him for so many thrilling memories.”

Kobe will go down as one of the game’s all-time greats. Few can come close to his resume: Five NBA titles, two NBA Finals MVPs, 15 time All-NBA teams, one MVP, 17 times an All-Star (and the All-Star Game MVP four times). And we could go on and on.

Good on Kobe for doing this now. After 55,000 NBA minutes his body has quit on him, and where his mind is still willing the flesh is clearly weak right now. He has not been able to adapt his game to the changing realities of what he can do.

Kobe has said he doesn’t want a “Derek Jeter Farewell Tour” but that will be the feel from here on out. Expect some special recognition at the All-Star Game in Toronto.

Bulls’ Dunleavy to see specialist after suffering setback with back injury

Mike Dunleavy, Joakim Noah
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CHICAGO—Over the past few weeks, Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy has seemed to be making progress in his back rehab. Dunleavy underwent back surgery shortly before the start of training camp and was initially given a timeline of 8-10 weeks. Recently, he’s been increasing his workload, and he traveled with the team on their recent west coast road trip.

However, his recovery may have hit a snag.

“Mike is going to see a doctor again tomorrow and then we should have a better update after that,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said after practice on Sunday. “He had a little bit of soreness. But we’ll have more on that tomorrow.”

An update to Dunleavy’s status is coming, but given Dunleavy’s age (35) and the frequency of back injuries to reoccur, this news certainly isn’t encouraging. Between Tony Snell and Doug McDermott, the Bulls have struggled at both ends of the floor on the wing. Getting Dunleavy back, whenever that happens, will be a huge help. But nobody knows when that will be.