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

14 Comments
This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

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.

Josh Allen’s old tweet: ‘I hate LeBron!!!!! #LeBronSucks’

AP Photo/Margaret Bowles
Leave a comment

Josh Allen, a quarterback from Wyoming, could be the No. 1 pick in tonight’s NFL draft. But his recently unearthed high school tweets – which include using the n-word with an ‘a’ at the end – are the sports story of the day.

And there’s an NBA tie.

Via Ryan Young of Yahoo Sports:

I hate LeBron!!!!! #LeBronSucks

— Josh Allen (@JoshAllenQB) June 7, 2011

Damian Lillard went down this same road with LeBron James, and they got past it.

But it would be a little more awkward if the Cleveland Browns – who have the Nos. 1 and 4 picks – take Allen. Then, Allen will face more scrutiny over this tweet – the most innocuous of the bunch.

Donovan Mitchell tells Thunder fans, Jazz teammates Utah not returning to Oklahoma City this season

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
Leave a comment

The Jazz blew a 25-point second-half lead in Game 5 last night, extending their series with the Thunder. Up 3-2, the Jazz are still in control. They can close out in Game 6 tomorrow in Utah. Blow that, and they must return to Oklahoma City for Game 7 Sunday.

But Utah rookie Donovan Mitchell is making it abundantly clear he doesn’t plan to do that.

Gabe Ikard of The Franchise 107.7:

Jake Edmonds of KUTV:

A confident proclamation that rallies his team or youthful exuberance run amok?

The narrative will be decided after Game 6. That’s just how this is done.

Report: Grizzlies moving toward keeping J.B. Bickerstaff as coach

AP Photo/Matt Slocum
1 Comment

From the moment Robert Pera opted to retain control of the Grizzlies and end a prolonged ownership saga, it seemed interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff would remain Memphis’ coach.

Lo and behold…

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Bickerstaff did a decent job before the Grizzlies started tanking. But that was a small a sample, and his prior work as Rockets interim coach was uninspiring.

To be fair to Bickerstaff, those were both difficult situations. He’s an experienced assistant who might be ready for this challenge.

To be less fair to Bickerstaff, this looks like Memphis taking the cheap route. The Grizzlies didn’t appear to conduct much of a coaching search, if any. Nor has Bickerstaff been mentioned with other openings. It probably won’t cost as much to hire him as it would a more-established option.

Memphis seems to be operating under the belief that a healthy Mike Conley and Marc Gasol will right the ship next season. And they might. But given the age and injury history of those two, I wouldn’t assume they stay healthy and productive all season. Even if they do, they’d have to carry an underwhelming supporting cast – with limited room for upgrade this summer – in a deep Western Conference.

The Grizzlies want Bickerstaff, who’d be a first-time non-interim head coach, leading that team trying to win now? That doesn’t seem like the right risk-reward balance – at least until considering his salary, and even then.

Rumor: 76ers increasingly confident about signing LeBron James

AP Photo/Chris Szagola
18 Comments

LeBron James-76ers rumors have been mainstream for the better part of the year.

And they’re not going anywhere.

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

I now fully understand why whispers about the Philadelphia 76ers and their growing behind-the-scenes confidence that they can woo LeBron to Philly this summer are getting louder.

Why shouldn’t they be increasingly confident? Led by Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the 76ers have already won a playoff series. The Cavaliers are mired in a tight first-round series with the Pacers, and LeBron’s supporting cast has mostly stunk.

This has the makings of LeBron’s previous free agencies – when he left barren Cleveland for Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with the Heat in 2010, when he left aging Miami for Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love with the Cavaliers in 2014. Whatever motivations and narratives attached to LeBron’s decisions, he has left sinking teams for better-positioned ones.

The 76ers are good enough to fit that. They also have the cap flexibility to acquire him without sacrificing roster strength.

That LeBron has positioned himself as a mentor to Simmons – who shares an agent, Rich Paul, with LeBron – would only make signing with Philadelphia easier. LeBron could sell the narrative of teaching and grooming Simmons. LeBron, who cares about his legacy, must explain why he’s again leaving his hometown team in a way that won’t alienate everyone – not easy considering his homecoming message upon his return. Working first-hand with his protégé would look understandable, maybe even commendable.

All that said, growing confidence could be going from a 1% chance to a 10% chance. That’d be a 10-fold increase while leaving Philadelphia a big underdog.

LeBron’s free agency is still a huge unknown – including, at least in part, to LeBron himself. But I believe he has already started to consider options, even if he hasn’t made up his mind. And when that happens, signs could emerge behind the scenes. Perhaps, the 76ers have a read on those.

Or maybe they’re seeing what we’re all seeing: The 76ers are rising while the Cavs are just trying to keep their heads above water. Which situation would LeBron choose?