On Monday the Orlando Magic announced the firing of head coach Stan Van Gundy and a mutual agreement for the departure of general manager Otis Smith. With star center Dwight Howard still not signed beyond next season, the Magic look to be setting up for a big fall.
Before the 2011-12 season, Howard asked to be traded to the New Jersey Nets prior to being able to opt-out of his contract following the season. Throughout the season, Howard sent mixed messages about whether he really wanted to be traded. Finally on the March 15th trade deadline, Howard signed a form waiving his option to opt-out of his contract committing to the Magic for at least the next season.
Magic CEO Alex Martins announced the departures of Van Gundy and Smith along with a claim that Howard didn’t want anything to do with the decisions. That’s contrary to reports that Howard wanted Van Gundy fired and that the Magic were considering giving him his wish. Van Gundy caused more turmoil late in the season when he told media that a Magic official had told him that Howard had requested his firing.
The departure of Otis Smith was expected with many fans calling for the general manager’s ousting for several years. Multiple bad deals including a trade for Gilbert Arenas had seemingly put Smith on the chopping block. Despite Martins’ attempts to divert the media from the truth that Van Gundy was fired to appease Howard as a desperate attempt to keep the center, it seems obvious Howard was behind the firing.
Martins told the media during the press conference that the decision to relieve Van Gundy of his duties was because he lost the confidence of his players. But that’s clearly false seeing how key players such as Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick have spoken publicly about their wish to keep Van Gundy in Orlando.
Whether the new Magic general manager decides to trade Howard or he leaves when his contract expires, it seems that the NBA’s best center is gone. And now, the Magic have lost their best coach in franchise history and one of the best coaches in the NBA today. Van Gundy lead the Magic for five seasons never ending a season under .500 and the franchise’s second appearance in the NBA Finals in 2009.
In the summer of 1996 Shaquille O’Neal spurned the Orlando Magic to head to Los Angeles. That decision took the Magic from a legitimate championship contender to one of the worst teams in the league in just three years. If Howard leaves Orlando, it could be déjà vu all over again.