There is a saying in life that you cannot fight City Hall.
There is also a saying in sports that you cannot fire the whole team.
That was what the Orlando Magic were faced with in the matter of Van Gundy v. Howard. On Monday, ending any speculation before it got out of hand, the latter saying won out.
Despite Stan Van Gundy’s 259-135 record in five seasons, including five playoff appearances, and an Eastern Conference Championship, the Orlando Magic jettisoned the hard-driving bench boss, sweeping general manager Otis Thorpe out along with him.
Even in announcing Van Gundy’s dismissal, Magic CEO Alex Martins laid out possibly the worst case for firing a coach in the history of sports.
“They both brought die-hard dedication and an unmatched work ethic on a daily basis,” Martins said Monday. “Their success is well documented, as the Orlando Magic has had the fourth best record in the NBA over the last five years, and entering the playoffs this year the third most playoff wins over that period of time.”
Martins added some pap about the Magic’s last two first-round exits in the past two seasons as a primary reason for Van Gundy’s dismissal, but anyone with a brain in their head could see beyond that transparent smokescreen. To dismiss Van Gundy after a first round exit without his best player is to suggest that Tom Thibodeau’s job in Chicago is in jeopardy as well..
Stan Van Gundy was fired to please Dwight Howard. Period.
“Dwight played no role in today’s decision,” Magic Senior Vice President Pat Williams said Monday, contrary to a published report in March that indicated the club had promised their All-Star center that he could choose Van Gundy and Thorpe’s fate.
When asked what role Howard will play in choosing the Magic’s next coach, Williams responded, “zero,” but did add that the franchise needs to move on from the “drama” that surrounded the Magic this past season.
What drama might that be? Was it the time where Van Gundy told the assembled media that he had knowledge that Howard wanted him out and then Howard minutes later denied the whole rift?
“It’s 12:02 right now, if they want to fire me at 12:05, I’ll go home and find something to do, Van Gundy told reporters on Apr. 5. “I’ll go home and have a good day. What I’m worried about is at 7 o’clock tonight, are we going to be able to guard Carmelo Anthony? That concerns the hell out of me.”
Moments later, not knowing that Van Gundy just told the assembled media that he knew that Howard wanted him out, Howard ridiculously lied ”I said that? Who did I say that to? I’m asking you, since you guys have so many sources.”
How about the coach himself as the source?
So now the ball is in Howard’s court as to whether or not he wants to come back to Orlando. Clearly, Magic ownership has done their part for the petulant superstar. After all, coaches – even good ones – come and go. But a 7-foot gazelle that can leap from Orlando to Daytona Beach and can yank down 20-plus rebounds? That is a once-in-a-lifetime talent.
But even if Dwight Howard stays in Orlando, the damage has been done. The Magic look like an organization with impossible expectations, Dwight Howard looks like a diva brat, and there has been no sign that he even wants to stay there or try to go to Miami or Los Angeles and be part of a superteam.
But considering how poorly he treated his coach and GM in Orlando, for any other club itching to have Howard come and be their final piece to the puzzle, it is buyer beware. While Dwight Howard is an amazing talent, basketball is still a team sport that thrives on chemistry.
Unfortunately, that was the biggest element missing from Orlando this season.