Inevitable end for Howard and Van Gundy nears
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The story of last week, of course, was that surreal scene of Magic coach Stan Van Gundy casually telling reporters he knew Dwight Howard ordered him fired as Howard stumbles innocently into the scene in chasing and mugging for the TV cameras, as usual. The story immediately was how Van Gundy and Howard could continue together for even another game. And that now Howard was the new Public Enemy No. 1 for fans to dislike. LeBron James could only sigh with relief.
Of course, there are now perhaps a dozen teams lining up to trade for Howard.
Actually, what perhaps crystallized for the Magic even more was they were going to need a commitment decision from Howard in July or trade him because another season like the last one with Howard’s free agency hanging over everyone would be an unspeakable punishment for the team and the community.
Though Howard ran away from Van Gundy’s charges, it’s hardly a surprise as Van Gundy’s firing after this season was widely expected. Van Gundy, by the way, is a huge baseball fan, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him leave NBA coaching and try to fulfill a lifetime dream of being a baseball umpire. Now, that’s where his brand of honesty would be appreciated.
Van Gundy, actually, has done one of the best coaching jobs in the NBA this season to have the Magic in third in the East until Howard’s latest outrages. I wrote earlier this season of Howard’s antics like taking over the microphone on the team plane and doing comedy routines to make fun of Van Gundy and GM Otis Smith and Howard and Glen Davis creating havoc around the team.
Still, he is the league’s best center. Some were saying Andrew Bynum until he had his latest breakdowns. Where have you gone, Kareem?
The Nets, of course, still will do anything to obtain Howard and will be building a package as soon as the season ends. The Magic will try to get that long term commitment from Howard. But if they can’t this time, you figure they’ll finally end the charade and trade him knowing the team that gets him has at least one full season and maybe they can make it work while the Magic moves on.
But who else will get in the Howard sweepstakes?
Houston: Despite an overachieving team based on effort and teamwork, they’ve yearned for the so called star for years. They’re anxious to move Kyle Lowry with Goran Dragic’s emergence and will try to sell Orlando on Luis Scola and Kevin Martin and take back contracts.
Atlanta: They’re going to get eliminated early again and with Howard a native think they have an outside chance. They’ll offer Al Horford plus and see if the Magic are interested.
Miami: The Magic won’t within the state, but if Miami doesn’t win the title they’ll be shopping Chris Bosh and could the Magic land a bigger name player? They’d likely pass, anyway.
Boston: They’ll offer everyone including Rajon Rondo, though it hardly makes sense for the Magic. Perhaps they then save their cap room and resign Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and pursue Howard in free agency in 2013.
Bulls: They still have the pieces, although Howard seems to feel the same way about Chicago as he does about Boston and cold. If the Bulls do not win the title, you’d assume they’d at least inquire and perhaps after all Howard has gone through maybe Derrick Rose as a leading man doesn’t look so intimidating anymore.
Golden State: Yes, they have Andrew Bogut now. But they’re always looking to upgrade and they like to make deals. You figure part of the Bogut thinking may have been to get a big man to make a more appealing package for Howard.
Indiana: They have cap room and maybe they make a run at someone like Williams. But perhaps with sign and trade deals they put something together with Roy Hibbert, Danny Granger and Paul George if they believe they are stuck where they are.
Lakers: You know it’s going to be a brutal off season after what seems like a playoff meltdown coming. The Magic won’t want Bynum, in part because he appears loonier than Howard. But he has one year left and they’re not about to go through a free agency issue with Bynum. But Kobe will be pushing hard to do something.
Knicks: They love Carmelo Anthony too much even if he’s getting them nowhere. If you want to go to New Jersey/Brooklyn why wouldn’t you want to go to Manhattan. I’d take Tyson Chandler and Anthony if I were the Magic.
Oklahoma City: They never say much, but how great a deal would it be for them. They could give Orlando Russell Westbrook, a scoring star, and Serge Ibaka, maybe a better defender than Howard. Then you feature Kevin Durant and have Howard as your inside force. And as many players as go there despite being a small city I never hear any complain. They seem to love that organization.
Portland: They have to make something big happen, and you assume the Magic could get LaMarcus Aldridge. It would be a heck of a starting point to build something.
Utah: They’re not the gambling kind, though they did dump Williams quickly. And they have all sorts of interesting pieces. Could they get Howard to stay? Hardly seems likely. But the Magic could put together a heck of a package to move forward with starting with Al Jefferson and Derrick Favors.
Phoenix: Wouldn’t that be ironic. The Magic sure could use Marcin Gortat now. Oh, right, had him. The Suns need some excitement, it’s warm and players love it there. So do I. Maybe the rookie Morris, some picks, Robin Lopez and who knows what else.
This is all going to start again pretty soon for the Magic and maybe the most relieved guy will be Stan Van Gundy.
Not the first player-coach feud
-- Forget Dwight Howard and Stan Van Gundy. There was nothing like Butch van Breda Kolf, long feuding with Wilt Chamberlain, sitting out Chamberlain in Game 7 of the 1969 NBA Finals after Chamberlain went out with a knee injury. Mel Counts played well in his place and with Wilt saying he could go back in, van Breda Kolf refused and the Lakers lost. Van Breda Kolf soon was out. The list really is too long. Don’t also forget the Bulls’ Dick Motta, who basically broke up the great team of the early 1970’s when he blamed Bob Love and Norm Van Lier for costing the team the 1975 championship because they were preseason holdouts. Motta’s reasoning was if they hadn’t held out, the Bulls would have won 60 games, had home court advantage and thus defeated the Warriors, who then beat the Bullets for the title. The team was never the same. Of course, there was Latrell Sprewell and P.J. Carlesimo and the choke hold. There was Magic Johnson and Paul Westhead fired 11 games into the season, Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan, the Magic with Penny Hardaway and Brian Hill, Jason Kidd and Byron Scott, Carmelo Anthony and, of course, Mike D’Antoni, Mike Brown and LeBron, Shaq and Stan Van Gundy, Elvin Hayes and Tex Winter and so many, many more wonderful stories of friendship and amity.
NBA news and notes
-- There have been all sorts of rumors regarding the 76ers’ slide, which perhaps was inevitable given their relative lack of size and talent. I thought they could hold on an win the Atlantic in a short season the way a Doug Collins coached team can steal games playing hard. There was a story in a Philadelphia newspaper saying they’d quit on Collins, which I haven’t seen. They’re still one of the league’s top defensive teams. But they are primed for a revamping and clearly have to break up their three of Andre Iguodala, Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner, all of whom like to control the ball. Figure they’ll be a very active off season team. They also could be a major offseason free agency player with a possible amnesty of Elton Brand. ... Doc Rivers says the Coach of the Year award will and should be between Tom Thibodeau and the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich. “I can’t see who else,” says Rivers. He won’t get it, but Rivers has done impressive work and established himself again as one of the elite in his business. It’s looking more like Boston will win the Atlantic after being under .500 at the All-Star break, losing two players to heart surgery, starting center Jermaine O’Neal also to season ending surgery, having his GM, Danny Ainge, talk about perhaps trading one or all of his so called Big Three veterans, having point guard Rajon Rondo in trade talks since the summer and forming a bench with the likes of Greg Stiemsma and Ryan Hollins. “It’s still Chicago and Miami,” said Rivers. “We believe we can beat anyone. Having said that, it’s still Chicago and Miami. We don’t look at the West because if any of us see the West I think we’d all be excited.” Rivers said Boston’s slow start was more a lack of conditioning for his veteran players, but to his credit he never lost faith and the players responded. The Celtics with Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett both free agents will be well under the salary cap. But if they cannot make a major signing, the thinking is they’ll bring both back if they can on short term deals, perhaps a year. ... It has been tough to sustain this season, and it was clear last week the way the Thunder crushed the Bulls and then lost just about every game since and after the Pacers beat the Thunder they lost at home to the Celtics. Which makes the Bulls streak of not losing back to back for 14 months all that more remarkable. The Pacers are a curious team with road wins at the Bulls, Lakers and Celtics, though they seem unable to sustain. Which doesn’t bode well for a series for them. But I thought they did something well against the Thunder that exposed a potential fatal flaw for Oklahoma City. They aggressively blitzed and trapped the pick and roll with big man. With the Thunder, and particularly Russell Westbrook, reluctant passers it stalled their offense. They also match small a lot by moving Kevin Durant to power forward. I think that hurts them badly by not using Serge Ibaka enough. It suggests a lack of a plan heading into the playoffs, which also could knock them out.
-- There always are curious coaching decisions, but Lawrence Frank with Charlie Villanueva in Detroit is absolutely baffling. He’s played 15 minutes all season and Frank said Villanueva can’t break into the rotation of Greg Monroe, Jason Maxiell, Ben Wallace and Jonas Jerebko. What, and everyone didn’t fall down laughing when he said that with his nose growing? Villanueva has been a disappointment since signing a five year deal in 2009. But with a team going nowhere you at least play him to see if someone gets interested. And Wallace is retiring. And the team is losing, did I mention? ... In nine games since joining the Thunder on March 21, Derek Fisher has made 11 of 48 shots. He's made five of 20 three pointers. ... Many NBA scouts are saying that Kentucky’s Anthony Davis will be a better pro than Kevin Garnett, so maybe there is a franchise turnaround player in this draft. The teams with the poorest records and thus the best chance are Charlotte, Washington, New Orleans and Cleveland. ... Perhaps it’s Eastern Conference wishful thinking, but the Heat continue to look ever more unimposing. Center is a mess with Ronny Turiaf starting and doing little while in foul trouble quickly. And point guard is a mess with Norris Cole falling out of the rotation and Mario Chalmers shooting 35.8 percent since the All-Star break. Mike Miller is due back this week, though it’s said to still be a fairly uncomfortable environment to play in given the distance between LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and the rest of the team. ... Suddenly the hot team in the West is the Memphis Grizzlies with seven wins in the last nine including victories over Dallas, Miami, Oklahoma City and the Lakers. They continue to bring Zach Randolph off the bench, which seems to work better with Rudy Gay starting and putting up big numbers. Plus, O.J. Mayo has scored in double figures in eight of the last nine off the bench to give the Grizzlies a strong reserve group with Randolph. Even Gilbert Arenas has helped some to my surprise. Coach Lionel Hollins seems to be quietly avoiding that potential conflict. And with seven of their last 11 at home and only one road game against a winning team they have a shot to move past the Lakers and Clippers onto the third seed. ... After missing almost all season, Eric Gordon quietly returned for the Hornets and is averaging 18.7 points in 30 minutes per game the three he’s been back. Though they’ve been without the talent, give coach Monty Williams credit for a team that’s competed hard and continued to run its system without complaint. ... Another unlikely team has been the Rockets, opening their current road trip with wins in Chicago and in L.A. over the Lakers, their second win over the Lakers in three weeks. And all without starters Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin. ... It will be interesting to watch the draft possibilities down the stretch. The Warriors get their pick only if they are in the bottom seven. They are eighth worst now. Utah loses its pick to Minnesota if it makes the playoffs. They are currently tied for ninth. ... The Timberwolves say they are missing Ricky Rubio, for defense? "Defense starts on the perimeter, and Ricky was one of the better guys at keeping his man in front of him," coach Rick Adelman told local reporters. "Unfortunately, we're not keeping in front of us right now." The Wolves were 18-13 with Rubio in the starting lineup and 21-19 when he was hurt. Before Rubio's injury, the Wolves were limiting opponents to 96.3 points per game. Since the injury, the Wolves have allowed 100 points or more in nine games. In the Wolves' past four games, opponents averaged 108 points and shot 49.7 percent from the floor. ... Grant Hill is going into the Basketball Hall of Fame. I’ve always felt he should, though his pro career was shattered by that ankle injury and mistreatment that cost him most of six years. But he returned to be an All-Star, and maybe given his college career and titles he’ll still make it after his playing career is over. But Hill at this year’s induction in Springfield will get the Mannie Jackson Basketball's Human Spirit Award, which recognizes basketball people who exemplify core values, community service and have overcome obstacles. In my years around the game he’s as good a person as I’ve encountered.
-- Why isn’t the Suns training staff working on a cure for cancer? Michael Redd is averaging 18.3 points and shooting 41 percent on threes the last four games with 23 in 26 minutes Saturday to beat the Lakers. ... Maybe he should coach as his next job after he leaves the U.S. Senate in 2012. Bucks owner Herb Kohl told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel when the team was in Washington April 2 that, "It's important for the players, the coaches, myself, the business operation, and first and foremost for the fans (to make the playoffs). It's a lot easier to sell your product when you have a winning season. If we get to the playoffs, I think we'll all feel that we've had a good season. Then we'll hope to do well in the playoffs. Yes, it's important." Kohl said the team needed a 4-0 week, and after being 14-23 in early March is now back at .500 after a 4-0 week and pushing the Knicks and 76ers for the final East playoff spots. "That's what happens," said coach Scott Skiles with a bit of a smile. "The Senator just says what he wants and then we go out and do it. That's how it usually works.” ... After all those years looking for a replacement for Steve Nash, the Suns found one. And traded him to Houston. Goran Dragic has been among the league’s most improved and has scored at least 21 points in five of the last seven games. Rockets’ management is high on him and will look to include Lowry in an off season package. Meanwhile, Aaron Brooks continues to finish the season in China with the Suns having to make a decision on whether to resign him. ... It was almost five years ago that Phil Jackson fined Andrew Bynum for taking a three pointer late in a game with the Lakers leading. Bynum said he’d pay the fine in pennies. Yes, he’s young, but some guys grow up at 20 and some guys never do. That’s the point with Bynum. He’s got such appealing talent, especially in this era with so few low post offensively oriented centers. But some guys are who they are. Like asking Glen Davis to get serious. Or even Dwight Howard. That’s who they are, and in many ways it's unfair to expect everyone to act like Grant Hill just because they are a pro and highly paid. Bynum is just letting everyone know who he is and that he’s not changing. Lakers insiders say some of the issues this season with Bynum come from the departure of Derek Fisher, who communicated well with young teammates, which we know Kobe isn’t about to do. ... Are the 2011-12 Mavericks the Bulls of 1998-99 (similar lockout season and post championship hangover) if the Bulls had tried to keep them together? The truth is it wasn’t possible as Jordan was leaving no matter what. But would it be ending just as ugly as it seems to be for the Mavs, who are now in danger of missing the playoffs? I don't think so, but the Magic thought they could repeat. The other issue that Bulls team would have had is the same as this Mavs team. Several players were leaving with multiyear offers, like Luc Longley, and perhaps Scottie Pippen, no matter what the Bulls were offering. Like the Mavs, that Bulls team was looking ahead and did offer Jordan another year and every other player as long a deal as Jordan got. But several would have rejected that like Chandler did. Better to have the memories than to be the Mavs?