Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 4/6/12
ORLANDO Stan Van Gundy left the Amway Center on Thursday night still the coach of the Orlando Magic. That could change by the weekend and the weekend starts now. With 11 regular-season games remaining and his team spiraling out downward, Van Gundy backed his management into a corner and further alienated his franchise player Thursday, almost daring the ax to fall. He started the day by confirming that management had informed him that Dwight Howard wants him fired. He finished the day by coaching a team that looked like they all wanted him fired. The Magic lost their fifth consecutive game Orlando's longest losing streak since Van Gundy arrived in 2007 with another embarrassingly weak performance, an uninspired 96-80, drubbing to the New York Knicks at home. The Magic (32-23) have dropped from third to sixth in the Eastern Conference standings in the past few days. "My job security isn't what's important right now. Dwight's wants aren't important now," Van Gundy said after the loss. "What's important is playing together as a team." Howard declined after the game to answer any questions about his relationship with Van Gundy, his thoughts on Van Gundy's future or the question of him asking for his coach's head. But he said it with his play, one of the most uninspired efforts of his career. He had eight points, eight rebounds and five turnovers, leading his team downward, playing like he was hoping for a coaching change. "We're together in this locker room," Howard said after the game. "We can't let anything on the outside tear us apart. I still think we can put this back together." Howard didn't score his first basket until just 3.5 seconds remained in the third period, cutting the deficit to 15 points. There was a scattering of boos from the crowd when he finally scored. They, too, were feeling betrayed. Van Gundy may have sealed his fate earlier in the day when he told reporters that Howard had been asking for his removal from the start of the season, defiantly telling everyone that he heard it directly from management. This was just moments before Howard, unaware of Van Gundy's comments, was denying he ever made that request. The two met Thursday afternoon with Magic general manager Otis Smith, who had wanted to finish the season before making any changes. "It will have to work out, for the rest of this season," Smith said Thursday. "We'll see what happens this summer.Stan is still our coach. Dwight is our player. Everyone has a role. Players play, coaches coach. The choices are to keep going this way, or change (coaches), but what are you changing into? (Caving into a player's demand) is not how we do business." The situation with Howard has been brewing since his preseason request to be traded. On the eve of the trade deadline, he waived his right to become a free agent this summer.Van Gundy probably decided he had seen, and heard enough, knowing he would be fired after this season ended. He wanted it out in the open. This situation is reminiscent of Van Gundy's previous head coaching gig.In 2005 while with the Miami Heat, Van Gundy resigned 21 games the season. But reports surfaced that then-Heat center Shaquille O'Neal demanded a coaching change six weeks into the season, uncomfortable with Van Gundy as his coach. Van Gundy never disputed the reports. This time he has not remained silent as a likely firing looms -- tired of hearing Howard denying his request, tired of management protecting its franchise center through a very difficult season. O'Neal, on the TNT NBA halftime show Thursday, defended Howard for his request to managementand ripped into Van Gundy for bringing it up after the early practice."It's a bush-league move by Stan Van Gundy," O'Neal said. "He's lost his team forever now. It can't ever be repaired. He threw his main guy under the bus. Look, this (a player asked for a new coach) has been done before. Trust me, it's been done before." Although teammates Thursday tried to stay out of the controversy, it obviously has taken its toll in the locker room. The Magic are playing like a team in disarray. The season-long drama has sapped their will to win. "It's so dramatic, so dramatic. It's like we're in a movie or something," said Magic power forward Ryan Anderson, who missed the game with a sprained ankle. "My mom loves soap operas, so for me to be a part of one, is kind of interesting," said reserve Ish Smith.
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