Every day brings a new rumor. Monday brought reports out of Los Angeles that a Dwight Howard-to-New Jersey deal was set for completion Tuesday. Tuesday came and went without a deal. Things were relatively quiet at the Amway Center as the team put together a spirited practice that Stan Van Gundy called the best of camp in terms of effort and focus. Doing that again Wednesday is undoubtedly the next step.
There were no rumors to report from practice Tuesday. Van Gundy’s response to any Dwight Howard question was a simple: “He practiced today and he’ll play tomorrow night.”
The constant swirling around of rumors has everyone projecting what the Magic might look like hour-by-hour and in the future. Magic fans are internally debating the merits of Andrew Bynum against Brook Lopez.
Of course, who knows if the Magic would even take a package for either of those players and what players would be coming. Predicting what the Magic might look like post-Dwight Howard is impossible. And of course there is always the outside chance that the wishful thinking of Alex Martins and the Magic front office comes true and Orlando brings in someone who pushes the team over the hill so to speak and convinces Dwight Howard to stick around.
We definitely do not know what that team would look like.
Obviously, everyone wants to know what is going to happen next in the Dwight Howard saga. It is the question constantly asked of everyone on the Magic even by friends and family, according to Quentin Richardson. Yet, Stan Van Gundy and the team are trying to avoid thinking of the post-Howard Magic.
Right now, Van Gundy’s focus is solely on the team he has and the players at his disposal. As the team prepares to conclude the preseason against the Heat tonight at Amway Center, that is all Van Gundy can do.
“The only way you can have a post-trade gameplan is if you tell me who’s on my team,” Van Gundy said. “You want to tell me who’s not on my team, I have a tough time planning for that. I have absolutely no idea. If we trade Dwight for you [Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi] and Brian [Schmitz], I’m not sure I could come up with a plan. You’re not planning ahead. I’m coaching this team.”
It is an incredibly simple approach and probably the only one Van Gundy can take as the coach. He cannot install plays for players he does not have, that is for sure. He can only coach the players he has and that is the long and short of it.
Van Gundy is well known as a meticulous planner. He has stats memorized about his team and can apply them and their principles quickly into games and into gameplans. Rarely is Van Gundy outcoached or outschemed. He is great at getting teams to play above their talent level and putting his players in positions where they can succeed and keeping them away from positions they can fail.
It would be silly to ask Van Gundy to waste his time theoretically planning a team that does not exist yet. Especially considering the brevity of this season and the speed at which it will come. Certainly, though, you would expect Otis Smith to consult Van Gundy (more than Dwight Howard, you would bet) on personnel moves and tweaks to the roster. Van Gundy is the one guy who could probably really tell management how a guy fits onto the team and what exactly they can give up.
The one thing Van Gundy will have to do when/if the trade comes is adjust on the fly. Last year, the team struggled to get its rhythm and struggled to find consistency after the trades in December. If there is one area Van Gundy struggled to reach his team with it was in this area. Likely, he will have to do it again, and Van Gundy knows the challenge.
“Last year, that thing happened like that (snaps fingers) and then, boom, you’re on the fly and you’re adjusting,” Van Gundy said. “You know guys’ games and you know where you go. I think that you have everything in your system somewhere that will fit whatever and you’re just picking out what parts you want to go to. Our defensive system will never change. That’s way down the road, maybe never. Who knows. Right now, we’re centering a lot of what we do around him and we’re working like we always do.”
Establishing a system offensively and defensively that can adjust to the strengths of the roster is key. We have not seen a Stan Van Gundy team without a dominant center since he took over the 2004 Miami Heat with a rookie Dwyane Wade leading the team. That squad was still pretty strong defensively and overachieved. Those are trademarks of Van Gundy teams.
If there is one thing we know about Van Gundy, whatever team he has in front of him, he should be able to coach them.