Posted May 21 2012 5:55PM - Updated May 22 2012 7:17AM
Once Dwight Howard is done rinsing the blood of Stan Van Gundy and Otis Smith off his hands, he needs to grab a pen and sign long-term with the Magic.
That would be the only appropriate gesture, a thank-you gift to an organization for doing what he wanted -- and also, what was necessary -- so everyone can move on.
Howard looks like the bad guy here, for forcing a major shakeup in command with the Magic and running the risk of being typecast as a spoiled superstar. If so, that makes him no different than Magic Johnson, Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O'Neal, Deron Williams, Carmelo Anthony and countless others who not-so-gently nudged a coach or general manager off the ledge.
Sometimes, these players are willing to take a bullet for teammates who don't have that kind of clout (and certainly, nobody on Orlando carried a voice). Other times, they're trying to advance their own agenda. Either way, they accept the risk to their reputations and the pot-shots from a public that's all too fed-up with players who push their weight.
But sometimes, it's worth it.
Magic CEO Alex Martins said "Dwight Howard never asked me to fire Stan Van Gundy" and Martins, as stand-up as they come, is likely telling the truth. Still: If Howard wanted Van Gundy and Smith to return, they'd still be coach and general manager. But he didn't. Howard didn't stomp and plead and fight to keep them, either. He said and did nothing of the sort. And, if you took an informal poll of the Orlando locker room, and required all voters to place their right hand on a Bible, you might discover that others agreed with Howard.
It's not that Van Gundy, in particular, didn't have support within the organization. He did. Everyone concedes he's a good coach. But the drama became too much. Van Gundy, for all of his attention to detail, hard work and basketball brilliance, began to wear on the one player who counts. It was time. And Van Gundy knew it. Sometimes, change is necessary, if only to hear a different voice.
Smith was a tougher and more emotional decision for Martins and ownership. He was an Original Magic who played for the organization and until the end was a loyal man loved by all. Rival GMs raved about Smith's integrity and honesty. The relationship between Smith and Martins went back to 1989, when the team was born, Martins then the public relations director and Smith a blue-collar player and fan favorite.
And yet: Smith cost the Magic roughly $16 million in the Gilbert Arenas trade, the difference in money between Arenas' contract (which was amnestied) and Rashard Lewis'. Plus, Smith will have the names "Vince Carter" and "Hedo Turkoglu" on his Orlando tombstone. Both were acquired and dumped at major cost. He didn't re-sign Hedo Turkoglu after Turkoglu helped Orlando to the NBA Finals. Then, after a trade for Vince Carter (which cost the Magic valuable prospect Courtney Lee) didn't work out, Smith traded Carter for Turkoglu (and also Jason Richardson). Richardson, by that point, was on the downside and is currently swallowing up salary cap space.
As a further kick to the groin of the franchise, Marcin Gortat was tossed into the Turkoglu-Carter deal. With big men at a premium in this league, Gortat just averaged 15.4 points and 10 rebounds for the Suns in a breakout season. Maybe if Orlando had kept Gortat, trading Howard (for a collection of players and picks) would've turned the franchise around, much in the way 'Melo did for Denver and Utah did when it dealt D-Will to New Jersey.
Had that happened, maybe Van Gundy would still be the coach, and Smith the GM.
The coaching search will certainly focus on Brian Shaw, the top assistant with the Pacers who once played for Orlando and knows how to deal with superstar egos. He earned the respect of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant both as their former teammate and as a Lakers assistant. The next GM must re-sign free agent Most Improved Player Award-winner Ryan Anderson and find a way to spruce up the roster without hurting Orlando's ability to win. Assuming Howard is "all-in" and still about "loyalty," his reasons for picking up his one-year option.
It's still all about Howard, you see, because Dwight Howards are hard to find and often tougher to keep. Superstars, especially if they're big men, are worth the money and headache, which is a far better option than trying to win without one.
The Magic did their part on Bloody Monday when they sent a direct plea to Howard to re-sign. If he does, the only stains on his hands will be ink.
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