Stan Van Gundy stuck in middle of Magic mess, its likeliest casualty


Stan Van Gundy knows that inevitably his time in Orlando will come. He has said that for a few years too. He knows one day, the Magic will no longer need his services. That one day the team will want to go in a different direction. There will be no avoiding it. He will not be, as he puts it, spending the next 60 years with Orlando.

With so much of the Magic’s future uncertain, everyone in the franchise has to feel a little uneasy. Nobody’s job in the basketball operations department is safe. Even if Orlando re-signs Dwight Howard — or as I suggest get that extra year from Howard by Howard declining his early termination option — there are going to be changes. We can assume, considering Howard has said his relationship with Otis Smith is not great, that Alex Martins, whom Howard has a better relationship with, is calling the shots and using Smith as an adviser. Otis Smith’s time of free reign as general manager is likely over.

Stan Van Gundy’s situation is much more difficult to decipher.

It seems every summer Van Gundy and Howard have conversations about his demonstrative and often grating demeanor on the sideline. It is all the musings of a perfectionist. There is a professional relationship between coach and star and it has its strains. The feeling is that in this tug-of-war between coach and star, the star will win if it means Howard staying.

And even if the star leaves, the coach is the easiest one to can.

If there is a move that would symbolize the complete separation from this era of Magic basketball and Dwight Howard it might be starting fresh everywhere on the roster — including the coach. There are not many tenured coaches like Jerry Sloan anymore who can survive multiple generations of star players — or have one star player defined a multi-generational career.

No one will talk about it. It probably is not even a thing on the team’s radar. But evaluating Stan Van Gundy’s future is as much a part of Orlando’s rebuilding project after this year with or without Dwight Howard as any other.

The obituaries for this generation of the Magic have already been written. The question has to be asked as Orlando begins preparing for its future — more likely than not, that plan really goes into action after the All-Star Break — is Stan Van Gundy a part of those plans.

There is no denying what a benefit Van Gundy has been to this team. A lot of people will tell you that Van Gundy has squeezed every last bit of talent and success from the rosters he has had. The 2009 team was a true upset story that surprised a lot of the NBA. And the 2010 team was one of the best teams not to make the Finals in the 2000s (yes, they are behind the 2001 Trail Blazers and the 2002 Kings, but in that group).

Things have fallen apart so quickly though that it is natural to begin to question Van Gundy’s hold on the team. There were even rumors that Van Gundy was losing the locker room toward the end of last season. And then there was an anonymous player telling Sporting News that the losses were having an effect on Van Gundy’s grip of the locker room:

“I would say he is not getting through like he usually does,” one Magic player told Sporting News. “It’s on us as professionals to put things back together. But there is a lot of tension when you’re losing, so Stan sort of gets tuned out. It’s not his fault, but it is what it is.”

If things had turned really south last week, it might not have been crazy to hear the whispers around Amway Center of massive change to get louder. A coach’s job is to win and, seeing as the coach is often not making as much money as the star player, is easier to dispose of when it is time to make a change.

That fact is, and many realize this, Stan Van Gundy has not been handed the most ideal situation.

Last year he was given a roster with a lot of holes and was forced to put round pegs into square holes without a training camp and the copious amount of prepartion Van Gundy is known for. It got worse when those holes were not filled this offseason and Van Gundy had a two-week camp and no practice time to make adjustment. And that is not even mentioning how much a bunch of those players have regressed and the progressive roster downgrades this team has faced.

More or less, Van Gundy cannot coach to the areas that are his true strengths and has to do all he can to string something, anything together.

This regular season though, will not wait for Van Gundy. Ultimately, a coach is judged by the result on the floor. No one will take a lack of talent or a cramped schedule as an excuse.

Van Gundy knows that. He has assigned a lot of blame to himself for his team’s struggles this season. He has repeatedly said he has to find ways to get guys better shots, especially as their legs get tired and their focus goes with fatigue. And he, of course, has the big challenge of bringing Glen Davis back into the fold after their spat last week. Davis is expected back Monday against the Clippers.

Like Ryan Anderson though, Stan Van Gundy’s future and status with the Magic is caught up in the Dwight Howard maelstrom. Like Anderson, he deserves more security than he is getting for the work he has done for the franchise. He deserves some benefit of the doubt. That is the unfortunate truth of this franchise’s uncertainty.

For all the mistakes Otis Smith has made to create this situation, some good people and some major contributors to the Magic’s past, present and future are left in uncertainty. It is another reason to figure out the Dwight Howard situation sooner rather than later. Until then, everyone is in a state of flux and uncertainty.

Stan Van Gundy is chief among them. And unlike Anderson, Van Gundy’s status with the team is still being judged on what he can do with the team he has been given with all its handicaps and shortcomings. And most unlike Anderson, there is no guarantee of some payday in the future with or without the Magic. In all likelihood, Van Gundy is its most likely casualty whether this is really his fault or not.