Denton: Magic Trying to Deflate all the Distractions

By John Denton
April 6, 2012

ORLANDO – Admitting that he feels as though he’s "getting attacked from all angles,’’ Orlando Magic superstar Dwight Howard went on the offensive on Friday. And Howard’s words following a lengthy free throw shooting session dealt more with defending his reputation than anything head coach Stan Van Gundy had said a day earlier.

Howard was roundly criticized nationally on Thursday and Friday after Van Gundy told the assembled media that he had been informed that the all-star center wanted him fired as coach. Howard has denied that claim, and stressed on Friday that he isn’t a malcontent player eager to bust up the dynamics of the Magic team.

``I’m not a bad guy. So regardless of what people may say, they aren’t here and they only go by what they hear or read somewhere. But everybody knows me knows that I’m not a bad guy,’’ Howard said. ``I’ve been the same guy from Day 1. People can say whatever they want and that’s the life we live now where the drama is what sells. But I’m not going to change who I am. I’m not going stop being the fun-loving Dwight. But it’s just a tough situation for everybody.’’

The Magic (32-23) are in a tough spot now as losers of the past five games and several of their key pieces nursing serious injuries. Hedo Turkoglu didn’t make the trip with the team to Philadelphia for Saturday’s game because of three fractures just below his right eye after being hit by a Carmelo Anthony elbow. Ryan Anderson couldn’t practice fully because of a sprained ankle, while Howard (back spasms) and Quentin Richardson (sore back) also had to sit out practice on Friday.

There is never a good time for a team to be hit hard by injuries, but this is an especially tough time for a Magic team that needs a victory in the worst of ways. Orlando has fallen from the third seed down to No. 6 spot over the past five games. Orlando hopes to recover against a Philadelphia team that it is 1-1 against this season.

``We need a lot of stuff right now, but most of all we need a win,’’ said Orlando’s Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis, who will start at power forward in place of the injured Anderson. ``It’s been a circus around here and I’m like, `Wow.’ But we’ve got to play through it because now is not the time to go into a slump.’’

A bizarre season that was plagued by rumors of Howard’s possible departure before the trade deadline got even wackier on Thursday. The always-opinionated Van Gundy answered a direct question about Howard’s role in his future, saying that he had been informed by Magic management that the star center wanted a change in coaches.

Van Gundy said it wasn’t his intention to create a firestorm between he and the Magic’s franchise center, but that he simply wanted to get the truth out after the topic had bubbled up at various times throughout the season. But Van Gundy said he isn’t focused on his long-term future with the Magic as much as he is the 11 games remaining in the regular season and the playoffs ahead.

``The first question was about my job security and I said that it doesn’t matter. And what Dwight wants isn’t the issue. The issue is our team – players, coaches, Dwight and his teammates – doing a better job to get our team better. That was the message,’’ he said. ``At times I have a problem with that, answering questions.’’

The relationship with Van Gundy and Howard has always been a somewhat contentious one. Howard has pushed for his coach to be less negative, while Van Gundy has demanded that the superstar center be more focused and serious-minded. It’s been a five-year relationship full of highs and lows, and one that has lasted because of its success.

``Dwight and I have been at this for five years,’’ Van Gundy said. ``People always ask about Dwight and I’s relationship and I would just say this: Our relationship is 254 wins, a trip to the Finals, a trip to the Eastern Finals, 30 playoff wins, three Defensive Player of the Years and first-team All-NBA (awards). That’s what our relationship is and you work through some things.

``With he and I, it’s been an ongoing thing,’’ Van Gundy continued. ``At least from my perspective, it wasn’t awkward (Thursday) night (in a loss to the New York Knicks) and it wasn’t awkward (on Friday). It wasn’t any different than it was two days ago, three days, two weeks ago or three weeks ago.’’

Howard was stunned to hear on Thursday that his coach disclosed what he thought was a private conversation with management about the direction of the team. He was asked on Friday if he felt betrayed by Van Gundy admission to the local and national media, and Howard deferred on answering the question.

``We’ll keep that in the family and we’ll keep that in the locker room,’’ Howard said. ``There’s no need to go back and forth with what (Van Gundy) said. What we said will stay between us and the team. There’s no need for me to clear the air. It’s on us as a team to stick together as a team.’’

Howard admitted on Friday that the pain and stiffness in his lower back hindered him dramatically in Friday’s loss to the Knicks. In 40 minutes on the floor, he scored just eight points and eight rebounds. Howard didn’t practice on Friday because of lingering pain, but did shoot free throws for some 30 minutes.

Howard said he’ll play Saturday night against Philadelphia because ``I’m going to have to play,’’ because of the Magic’s tenuous position with their injuries and losing streak. During this time of turmoil, Howard said it’s more important than ever for him show strength to his teammates.

``Right now the leader is getting attacked from all angles and it’s my job to stay strong for the team and not allow anybody to break my spirit or who I am as a person and the rest of the guys will follow,’’ Howard said. ``We can still be effective as a team as long as we stick together through this and fight through it. It’s a very tough situation, but we’re going to do what we can.’’

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com

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