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.