This year has been anything but normal for the Orlando Magic. Their franchise center, Dwight Howard, caused a season-long distraction by stating his desire to be traded. Once the time came for the Magic to either trade Howard or hold onto him, he waffled on whether or not he would sign a waiver that would prevent him from opting out of his contract.
Howard ultimately decided to stay for the rest of the season and next, quelling the distraction and letting the Magic get on with business. However, Howard caused another firestorm when he allegedly told the Orlando front office that he wanted head coach Stan Van Gundy fired.
Speaking to reporters after shoot around yesterday morning in advance of his team’s game against the Knicks, Van Gundy said that he learned about Howard’s request, saying, “I know he has [asked for me to be fired]. I was told it was true by people in our management right from the top.”
While Van Gundy was still addressing the media, Howard showed up, and walked over to his coach. Howard put an arm over Van Gundy’s shoulder and started to dispute a report that he wanted his coach terminated.
“I am a player for the Magic. I am not the GM. I am not [team owner] Rich DeVos. I am not [CEO] Alex Martens….So you guys should stop with every other week it’s trying to find something, because there’s nothing….I haven’t said anything to anybody about anything. Our main concern is winning. So all the other stuff should stop.”
This latest news report really casts a pall over the Magic, who, despite Howard’s since-rescinded trade demands, had been having a solid season. They’d held third place in the Eastern Conference, until a recent slide (four consecutive losses) dropped them to fifth, behind Chicago, Miami, Indiana, and Boston.
The timing of Howard’s alleged request to the Orlando front office is curious. Why would he want his head coach to be fired this late in the season? Why wouldn’t he just wait until after the season ends? It’s just another questionable decision by Howard, who ensured that this season would be anything but normal when he asked for a trade.
Whether or not Howard actually made the request, it’s become quite clear that the Magic probably have no choice but to fire Van Gundy. It’s an untenable situation. Keeping Van Gundy would only make an awkward situation worse and ensure that the Magic would go nowhere in the playoffs.
The Magic’s season is in danger either way, as it would be extremely hard to bring in a new head coach at this juncture and expect results to follow. It’s possible that if the Magic maintain their current losing streak, they may slide all the way down to the seventh or eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, which would match them up with one of the two best team’s in the conference in Chicago or Miami.
Making matters even worse is that whoever is coaching the team next year — be it Van Gundy or somebody else — will have to deal with yet another season-long circus, as Howard is set to be a free agent after next season. By signing the waiver and opting in for next year, all Howard did was defer his decision to become a free agent. The Magic will be right back in this same position.
Here’s a video of Van Gundy and Howard addressing the media early yesterday afternoon.