It has been a week since Stan Van Gundy answered questions surrounding his future with the Orlando Magic. Last Thursday an everyday post-shootaround interview session turned into a firestorm for the Orlando media circus.
Some of Van Gundy’s statements were taken slightly out of context. He spent a good chunk of his time in the days after to try and clarify some of the statements he made. Even after Thursday’s loss to the Knicks, Van Gundy said that his future was not a concern of his at that moment and he cared more about getting the 2012 Magic straightened out.
“My job security and me is not important,” Van Gundy said after last week’s loss to the Knicks. “What Dwight wants as far as that is not important right now. What is important right now is we start playing better as a team. That’s what’s important and that’s what we started with today before someone asked the question.
“Dwight will go out and play, I will coach. That’s the understanding.”
The Magic have certainly moved on as the press has died down concerning the latest flare up of Magic drama. Still, the airing of some of Orlando’s dirty laundry again for the entire world to see brought an unfriendly and scrutinizing eye on the Magic.
Even a week gone, everyone is still trying to figure out exactly what Van Gundy was doing in making the statements he did. It seems like he was simply answering a question with his trademark brutal honesty. Someone asked him whether he was concerned that someone had asked management to fire him, and he said yes simply because this was the truth. It did not change anything for him to bring it out publicly (although he should have seen how the media would run with it).
Honestly, this was not a dirty secret within the Magic organization, it just had never been aired on the record. Steve Kyler of HoopsWorld reported earlier this week that discussions were had between Howard and his representatives and Magic management about replacing Stan Van Gundy back in December. A source confirmed these discussions ocurred with Orlando Magic Daily. This was not some horrible secret. As Van Gundy alluded, he has been coaching under this cloud all season.
The two sides, as they said in December, agreed to work for each other and kind of soldier on to make things better. The Magic would explore trades to make Dwight happy and he would play hard for the Magic in the meantime. If the strategy was to keep Howard in Orlando, it worked brilliantly. If the strategy was to keep Stan Van Gundy… it looks like it failed miserably.
Of course, now comes the messy situation of cleaning it all up. That will not come until the offseason.
The real issue, according to Kyler at least, is that Dwight wants a coach that treats the relationship with the star player as more of a partnership:
“Dwight Howard wants a coach he can connect with; a coach he can trust; a coach that can relate to what players are going through in a season.
Dwight does not want to be an employee. He wants to be a partner and he knows that he cannot have that with Stan Van Gundy or any of the coaches on the staff. He also knows he cannot have that with Otis Smith.
Look around the league at the teams that have won NBA championships. They have positive relationships with their star players. The star players are part of the process.
Dwight Howard isn’t seeking a push-over head coach. He is seeking a coach that wants to connect with his players in a positive way.”
Call it a spoiled NBA star. Call it a simple request exercised when Howard had the maximum amount of leverage to get what he wants. Call it whatever.
Van Gundy is not as bad as Howard probably characterizes when it comes to relating to players. But there is no denying he was not an NBA player and rests his authority on his incredibly basketball mind. Very realistically, despite all his time as a coach in the NBA, he just does not have the experience to approach players and talk to them about their problems in the way Kyler suggests Howard wants.
Being a winning coach, a perfectionist and great basketball strategist simply might not be enough for THIS team to get over the top. Howard may have seen or felt that and discussed this and other changes he wanted to see in the franchise at the beginning of the season. This is not different than the complaints Howard aired when he requested the trade. He wants some more involvement and input in the direction of the franchise if he is to stay.
There is nothing to suggest that Howard brought the Van Gundy issue up again during the season when it would serve as a potentially crippling distraction — aside from that other distraction Howard definitely DID create.
Perhaps this is one reason the relationship is beyond salvation. Howard was clearly irked last Thursday after completely realizing what it was Van Gundy said.
And even with all the questions there are more than a few players who owe their careers to Van Gundy and continue to support him.
Hedo Turkoglu and J.J. Redick specifically mentioned how Van Gundy has helped them develop in their careers. Turkoglu realized a whole bunch of his potnetial and had his most successful seasons once Van Gundy arrived. And Redick went from requesting a trade thanks to Brian Hill effectively burying him on the bench to expanding his skills to gain his new coach’s trust and becoming one of the team’s most dependable players.
It does not seem like the locker room is split between “Dwight supporters” and “Stan supporters.” If anything, this is internally one of the tighter groups of Magic players. Of course, being good friends with teammates does not necessarily translate into wins and that is the end game.
The Magic will soldier on and “stick together” in the meantime for the final eight games of this season hoping to catch fire at the right time.
“We talk a lot amongst each other,” Dwight Howard said after last week’s loss to the Knicks. “We are together in this locker room. We can’t let adversity stand in our way. We have to keep finding ways to fight through this. We’re going to get it done. We’re going to find a way. It’s going to turn out good for us. We just got to keep believing in each other.”
Resolving this is not going to be pretty. Feelings are going to get hurt and the Magic are going to lose one of their best assets — whether it be player or coach.
There will be time to take sides on the matter in the offseason. Right now, the goal is to focus on winning games and getting to the postseason. From there, the franchise will determine what is in its best interests for the future.
And, who knows, that might actually be keeping Van Gundy on the roster and trying to rebuild this team around a renewed understanding between star player and coach. Pat Williams believes in that possibility, even if the writing seems already to be on the wall.
The team has dealt with plenty of distractions this year. One more does not seem to have that much more of an effect on them. This team is still largely inconsistent and reliant on Dwight Howard‘s presence offensively and defensively.
Until that gets fixed, the team is going to fall short of its goals.