Savage: The Start of a New Era

By Dan Savage
May 22, 2012

ORLANDO -- If the Orlando Magic were a civilization, it’s safe to say that one of their golden ages has come to an end.

Now, it’s just a matter of how quickly they can enter a renaissance?

With the dismissal of Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy and the decision to mutually part ways with President of Basketball Operations Otis Smith, Orlando closed the chapter on a five-year span that included five playoff appearances, three Southeast Division titles, two trips to the Eastern Conference Finals and one NBA Finals appearance.

“Their record cannot be questioned,” Magic CEO Alex Martins said of the team’s former head coach and general manager. “Their success is well documented.”

But over the past two seasons, Orlando’s squad has not headed in the right direction. And with two consecutive First Round playoff exits, the organization determined it was time for a change.

“It’s time for new leadership and a new voice with a different approach to building a championship basketball operation,” Martins added.

The million dollar question now becomes, will that approach include six-time All-Star center Dwight Howard?

Orlando made it clear on Monday that its decision to relinquish Van Gundy of his duties was not a direct result of a strained relationship between the team’s head coach and its superstar.

Instead, the Magic were looking for more out of the position, even though they still regard the former head coach as one of the top basketball strategists in the game. Instead, they’re potentially looking for someone who relates better with all of their players and others in the organization, among other things.

The franchise is also well aware that removing Van Gundy by no means guarantees a long-term deal with Howard, whose contract with the team runs only through next season.

Although the organization still wants the three-time Defensive Player of the Year to finish his career in a Magic uniform, they’re still unsure of his long-term plans.

“We’ve been in discussions with him and his representatives about his future with us, but I think the decision is up to Dwight now,” Martins said. “I think Dwight needs to decide where his future lies. I think it’s been well documented as to what our desires are, now Dwight needs to decide what his are.”

That decision could leave the Magic at an interesting crossroads.

If Howard commits, the plan is simple: find pieces to build around the top center in the NBA and quickly revitalize the franchise.

If Howard remains non-committal, one of the first tasks for Orlando’s next general manger will be to determine what to do with D12.

That plan could include swapping him – prior to next season – for another superstar, a myriad of young players, a number of potential lottery picks or some combination of them all.

The Magic could also choose to start next season with Howard on the roster and then make the determination whether they want to include him in a deadline deal or risk letting him walk after the season via free agency.

After seeing how the drama and media spotlight weighed on the franchise last season, the last two options appear extremely unlikely.

While Howard’s future remains uncertain for the time being, one thing is apparent; the organization will not be satisfied with mediocrity.

“Our championship goals have not and will not change,” Martins explained. “We’re focused on putting a winning product on the floor every year and succeeding far into the playoffs.”

Now it’s just a matter of finding the right leaders and players to help them get there.

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