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Distractions, questions of effort lead to Van Gundy’s murky future


Stan Van Gundy has always said this is the worst part: the waiting and twisting in the wind while the higher-ups decide the coach’s fate.

Van Gundy has always known the day would come when even he would be subjected to this uncertainty, no matter how successful he would be with the Magic. And maybe Van Gundy is not quite at that stage yet. No one has said anything to contradict the expectation that Van Gundy completes the final year of his contract. But nobody is talking an extension either.

It seems that time has come.

Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld reported Saturday that a growing number of people within the Magic organization believe Stan Van Gundy will quit after the season to avoid going through the Dwight Howard will-he-won’t-he hoopla and that Van Gundy is not interested in going through it again. Van Gundy was among those ready to move on from Howard and focus on getting back to the court, according to Kennedy.

A source told Orlando Magic Daily that Van Gundy has considered (at the very least) the possibility of resigning at the end of the season. There is no indication from either side that Van Gundy will not complete his contract to the end of next season. This is an issue that will not be formally addressed until the end of the season.

Adding more legs to this rumor though was Marc Stein of ESPN’s report that Nate McMillan would likely surface as the leading candidate to take the Magic job if they were to fire Van Gundy. There is some smoke seeping from under the door, nobody is quite sure if it is hot enough to ignite quite yet.

The signs are there though that Van Gundy’s time is coming to an end. A mutual split might be what is best for both sides.

After two straight appearances in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Magic have nosedived in terms of the quality of play on the floor and consistency. The trades in December 2010 changed the course of the franchise and the Magic have struggled to regain their footing. Most especially is the detail-oriented Stan Van Gundy who has not had a full training camp with his new charges. This can, at least, partially explain some of the defensive lapses Orlando has had.

It was no secret either that Dwight Howard and Otis Smith gave Stan Van Gundy some constructive criticism about his demeanor on the sideline. The rumblings and rumor mill spread word though that Howard was not happy with Van Gundy as his coach and then, of course, rumors came out that Howard would be given some type of say in Orlando’s coaching future.

And so it seems with the Magic continuing to play at an inconsistent level and the constant need and shadow of trying to keep Dwight Howard, one of the Magic’s few positive assets is on the chopping block.

Something is off with this team. It has been off for a while now. Fixing that “something” might be as simple as the voice in the locker room.

There were rumblings at the end of last season that the players had begun to tune Van Gundy out and that his style and quest for perfection were not sinking in the same way they did in 2009 and 2010. The discussions were brushed aside as the consequences of a hard season that ended in disappointment.

Despite returning virtually the same roster, things have not corrected themselves. Something has not clicked and Orlando has been good, but uneven.

The Magic are not giving a consistent effort on a nightly basis. Turnovers and a general lack of precision is noticeable. The Magic might be the third best team in the East, but they certainly don’t look or feel like it. Dwight Howard asks everyone to buy in and believe the team can win a championship, but the evidence just is not there that this team will turn it on.

You have to look no farther than the four losses of 20 or more points or the seven games scoring fewer than 80 points — including two with fewer than 60. When the team is still questioning its own effort every night, that speaks to both problems in self motivation from many of the players but external motivation from the coach.

This certainly has been Van Gundy’s most trying year. The distractions surrounding this team and the general lack of practice time and preparation has made it difficult for everyone. But these are the same issues that every team has to deal with.

For whatever reason, Van Gundy’s motivational tactics do not seem to be clicking and the team can only show a shadow of its potential. There is a pretty good team in this roster, it just is not coming together on a consistent basis. That disconnect points to some sort of issue between players and coach.

It isn’t that Van Gundy is not doing a good job. It still feels like he is wringing everything he can out of an imperfectly constructed roster. It just isn’t playing to a championship level and that is what everyone expects.

This is not a distraction the team needs right now. But, rest assured, after the season ends there will be serious conversations and the ultimately conclusion might be that it is time to part ways with the team’s greatest coach.