Questions raised for DeVos family

AP Photo/DayLifeThe DeVos family is personally under attack right now thanks to the boycott on their company, Amway. Again, everyone should form their own opinion and make their own decisions with the information available when it comes to that issue. We need to move back to basketball.

The DeVos family has owned the Magic since the 1992 season. Since then they have seen the Magic rise and fall and rise again and fall again. They have dealt with Shquille O’Neal and his departure. They have dealt with Tracy McGrady and his departure. And now they are muddling through Dwight Howard’s departure. There were probably hundereds of players in the meantime who came and went and have their own experiences dealing with the Magic as a franchise.

The DeVos family is the head and when major decisions are made, the DeVos family is involved. Rich DeVos was heavily involved in the Dwight Howard proceedings through his son Dan DeVos and Magic CEO Alex Martins, who replaced son-in-law Bob Vander Weide. When the Magic hired Rob Hennigan and Jacque Vaughn, the DeVos family met with each for a final round of interviews at their Grand Rapids, Mich. home.

For whatever Orlando is trying to build after Dwight Howard, the DeVos family will be involved.

It is tough to say what kind of owners they are behind the scenes. We can only see those effects and how players talk to them publicly. Jacque Vaughn said in his introductory press conference that the DeVos family’s commitment to winning and their commitment to the organization were key reasons why he wanted to return to Orlando.

“For me, it was the DeVos family,” Vaughn said. “I’ve never seen their commitment waver one bit — when I was here, when I left, and now that I am back again. And that is a great thing to say.”

Similarly, Ryan Anderson, after he signed with the Hornets, spoke highly of DeVos and the way his family welcomed him to Orlando. Dwight Howard has typically spoken reverentially of DeVos and the family, although he has not really done so recently. There are plenty of players who speak highly of the DeVos family. Despite never winning a title, the Magic are a surprisingly successful franchise when it comes to playoff appearances.

But then there are stories that make you think, while the DeVos family may be generous, kind people (political views aside for the moment) and hold to certain tenets and beliefs, they are strict businessmen and women, whose operations sometimes act in a manner that reminds us business can be brutal. The goings on with Dwight Howard, if certain reports are to be believed, suggest that the DeVoses sometimes eschew the family atmosphere they say they are creating with the Magic in favor of a strictly business approach.

If you look for examples throughout Magic history an interesting trend began to emerge. A trend that is as much a part of the Magic’s future as it is a part of its past.

John Amaechi, for example, came to prominence in Orlando during the Heart and Hustle year, when he averaged 10.5 points per game and started 53 games. He was set to become a free agent and had a six-year deal on the table with the Lakers. But he wanted to stay in Orlando and the DeVos family promised him that he was part of “the family” for his work in the community and commitment to the team. He said they told him that they would take care of him if he took a modest raise the next year to stay and sign him to a lucrative deal the following year.

Amaechi related this story in his book, Man in the Middle, but, as expected, the Magic and former general manager John Gabriel denied this ever happened. While Amaechi has said he has fond feelings for Orlando and described leaving Orlando as one of the toughest decisions in his career, he still has cold feelings toward the DeVos family and the way he was ultimately trated on his exit.

Getty Images/DayLifeWhen you examine how many acrimonious exits there have been in Magic history, it makes you wonder a bit about how the DeVos family conduct their business. History seems constantly to repeat itself.

Shaquille O’Neal left Orlando because of the family’s decision to give him a low offer, perhaps some naivete on their part as new owners in a league with recently empowered superstars. The Tracy McGrady situation was a collection of bad timing and bad luck thanks to Grant Hill’s signing and the mish-most roster the Magic consistently surrounded him with.

Then there is the current Dwight Howard situation.

We all remember how Howard came out on March 15 and announced that he would be waiving his early termination option and committing to be with the Magic and talked about his loyalty to the city, to the franchise and to the DeVos family. At the time, he may have meant every word of it.

That loyalty was extremely short-lived though and Howard would tell you it was a because the loyalty was not returned.

Howard reportedly became upset with management when they did not come quickly to his defense when Stan Van Gundy went public with the information that Howard had at one time asked that he be fired. Things reportedly got worse when Howard got injured and sought a second opinion on his back.

Howard believed change would come to the way the Magic operated and related to him — mainly, he would gain more say in the franchise’s operation and become an even bigger presence in the Magic’s marketing efforts. It was no secret these were things Howard wanted. But that change never came. He reportedly felt like the franchise did not trust him and did not take his back injury seriously. And so, already on the fence about his decision most likely, he has shut the Magic out.

Were the Magic completely wrong? No. There is blame for both parties in this nasty breakup with Dwight Howard.

But the franchise’s history suggests that such naivete and treatment of players formerly part of the “family” has occurred again and again. There were even some hard feelings when Gabriel and Doc Rivers decided it was time to let Darrell Armstrong walk.

When we talk about Rob Hennigan’s process and the sustainability he is trying to build in Orlando, it needs to include the DeVos family and their relations to their franchise. It is one thing to be business-oriented and make business decisions, it is another to hold out that they treat the players as “family” on one hand and then hear players say it is the opposite. This is not a good precedent that has reportedly continued or occurred multiple times in the franchise’s history.

This is not to say the DeVoses are any different than any other owners. They are ultimately running a business in the end and difficult decisions need to be made. How the relationship with Dwight Howard has completely fallen apart to this point though is extremely puzzling and a little troubling.

The Magic want a star and a team that they can truly partner with. That appears to be a big part of Hennigan’s plan for the franchise. But it must be clear that the ownership group is on board and completely sold on going through with this vision. They must set the parameters and let it work.

I guess, the real question is, will the family know enough to stay out of the way now that their basketball operations leaders have been restocked? The business decisions, it seems, should be left to the basketball staff.

As always, the franchise must live and learn through this experience.

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily

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