Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel reports the Magic are entering their next stage of interviews for a head coach with Magic CEO Alex Martins. Jacque Vaughn was excused from coaching San Antonio’s Summer League team in Las Vegas on Friday and was expected to interview with Martins while he was in Las Vegas for the NBA’s Board of Governors meeting. Robbins reports one or two finalists will then meet with owner Rich DeVos in his Grand Rapids, Mich., home.
This is the same process the Magic used in hiring Rob Hennigan as the team’s general manager.
It begs an important question. If Hennigan is the head of basketball operations, why does it seem like the Magic’s upper management is so involved in this selection process? Undoubtedly, Rich DeVos and Alex Martins should have some say in who is going to end up coaching their team. You would think it would be more of an approval with the basketball operations making the final decisions.
An interview process this involved though suggests that part of the process Hennigan talks about will include some input from the higher management.
It is not odd to see major decisions get the stamp of approval from ownership. After all, it is their money the general manager is spending. It feels like, however, that a process this involved is something different.
There is no doubt that there was something of a disconnect between management and ownership last year. Reports had Stan Van Gundy and Otis Smith ready to move on from Dwight Howard when he requested his trade last December. It was ownership, represented in Alex Martins, who put the breaks to that believing they could convince Dwight to stay.
It may have worked until the Stan Van Gundy press conference in early April and the aftermath of Howard’s injury. Or it may not have. Really only Dwight knows.
The Magic were a dysfunctional franchise last season because management and ownership were not on the same page. Perhaps they have not been for the last few years. An over-involvement of ownership in the basketball operations may have placed the Magic in the quagmire they are in now trying to trade Howard … and finding few offers that meet their satisfaction.
It appears something ownership wanted was to bring someone in with basketball knowledge that would get everyone on the same page. Whether that means involving them in every minute decision the team makes or not will remain to be seen. It is clear that major decisions — like selecting a head coach or trading Dwight Howard — they will have input in for now.
As I suggested earlier, it appears from the finalists the Magic have selected for their head coaching position, the franchise is looking for someone who will not rattle the boat and will buy in to what the team is trying to do. They are trying desperately to get everyone on the same page and move forward with a new identity for the franchise.
That identity includes players who want to be in Orlando and will buy into whatever program the new coach and Hennigan want to build.
The equation forgotten here is finding the player to be the centerpiece of that rebuilding project.
It may not come in the Dwight Howard trade. But it is becoming clear from the way the Heat did business and the way Dwight Howard wanted to do business that the star player has to have a say in the way the team is built.
It was widely reported and continues to be reported that one of Howard’s complaints with the franchise was that he felt like he was constantly ignored. He felt the team was not bringing in the players he had requested and that the team had backed itself into a corner by ignoring his requests for teammates and making moves they thought would appease Howard (or something to that effect, who knows what the actual story is at this point).
There is no telling now whether acquiring Steve Nash, Chris Paul or Monta Ellis would have done the trick and gotten Howard to commit long term. It is widely believed (at least on ESPN) that acquiring an elite point guard like Nash or Paul would have done it.
To build a dynasty, the team has to be a partnership between ownership, management and top player.
That is the golden package in San Antonio between Gregg Popovich, R.C. Buford and Tim Duncan. That is the package that persuaded LeBron James and Chris Bosh to join Dwyane Wade, Pat Riley and Micky Arison in Miami. And that is what Carmelo Anthony is allegedly trying to build in New York as Henry Abbott of ESPN.com related a few days ago.
Anthony didn’t join the Knicks in 2011 to be just a player. He came to build a basketball family. Despite his messy departure from Denver, he came to New York envisioning an opportunity to create a refuge from the backstabbing and intrigue that plagues many teams. [Jeremy] Lin, though by all accounts a great teammate, was seen as a potential threat to what Anthony was creating.
You only have to read the news to learn that those charged with helping an NBA player reach his potential — the players’ association, agents, coaches, teammates, even family and friends — are not always especially faithful about keeping the player’s best interests at heart. The multiple agendas can be conflicting and confusing, on and off the court. By the time they have been in the league a few years, most players have been ripped off or feel shortchanged by somebody or another. It’s a bad feeling.
And in particular, on many teams there is very little trust among players, owners, coaches and the front office. Often, it’s every man for himself, even amongst teammates.
But, right before our eyes, a lot of that is changing.
When James left Cleveland for Miami, he was protecting himself from mistrust by creating his own family of sorts. He wanted to play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, longtime friends and teammates on Team USA. He found people to trust in Heat executive Pat Riley — a much-admired figure among NBA stars — and in Riley’s protégé, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. And with Riley and Heat owner Micky Arison as the patriarchs of a small front office, and former Miami stars keeping close ties to the team, the Heat had already created the kind of family atmosphere that appealed to LeBron.
This is the NBA reality we are entering.
It is yet to be seen who the Magic will turn to be the foundation of their new basketball family. It seems with Hennigan and his “process” and a young coach who will not rattle the cage like Van Gundy did at times, Orlando is looking for ownership and management to have a bit more control. Maybe that will create an atmosphere that attracts the next crop of superstar free agents to Orlando. Maybe it will not.
The Magic have gone the way of the “primadonna superstar.” Dwight Howard may not have been one of those when he was drafted or as he matured. But he became one with the way he handled his impending free agency and trade requests. The constant back and forth has turned off fans and left everyone ready to move on.
In other words, Orlando was not a family anymore. It was a bickering, squabbling mess full of internal strife. The exact thing Abbott believes the elite players are trying to avoid as they empower themselves in new ways.
It is not far-fetched to think that the Magic are looking for a bit more control and a bit more peace in the next iteration of this team. Perhaps they are looking to establish the program for when that next star comes so they can explain the process to the next star and include him in that process. Or, perhaps, the Magic are trying to establish a franchise or a process that gives the management the power to control the franchise’s future, wresting it away from the player-driven trend emerging around the NBA.
The process for the Magic is still developing. It is going to take much longer than this summer to do so. Winning a championship will take finding that partner in a star to build around — one that believes in what Hennigan is building — and then the patience from all sides to let the process work, so to speak.
Right now, management and ownership are heavily involved. They are working together to make sure they get this decision right and are on the same page moving out of the Dwight Howard era. Whether such a close partnership will attract the next star to come through Orlando, only time will tell us that as Hennigan’s process develops and evolves.