Denton: Much to Reflect On and Wonder as Offseason Begins

By John Denton
May 9, 2012

ORLANDO – With their trying season coming to an abrupt halt on Tuesday night, the Orlando Magic went to work on Wednesday evaluating players, coaches and management at the start of what figures to be a busy, if not dramatic, offseason.

The long-term futures of President of Basketball of Operations/GM Otis Smith, head coach Stan Van Gundy and franchise center Dwight Howard could be decided in the coming days or weeks as the franchise tries to relocate a path that will take it back to championship contention.

Once 32-18 during a season filled with lockout challenges and swirling rumors about Howard, the Magic limped into the playoffs after losing their franchise center to a back injury. The Magic still extended the Eastern Conference’s longest streak of consecutive playoff appearances to six, but were knocked out in the first round of the postseason for a second straight year. The mission now is to try and solve some of the uneasiness and unsettled matters that plagued the team to get it back on a title track.

``I don’t think anybody wants to go through the season that we’ve just been through,’’ Magic CEO Alex Martins said. ``I think anybody you talk to in their careers have never been through a season like we just went through. Certainly in my 25 years (in pro sports) I haven’t been through one like this. So we’re going to do everything that we need to do to not put ourselves in a position to not go through the season we just did.’’

Martins made it clear that while he was proud of the fight that the Magic showed in staying afloat after Howard went down and pushing the Indiana Pacers in the postseason. But he said that losing in the first round of the playoffs is not acceptable for a franchise that has grown accustomed to making deep postseason runs.

``Unfortunately, just getting to the playoffs isn’t good enough,’’ Martins said. ``Two years in a row we’ve just gotten to the playoffs and we haven’t gotten beyond that. We have to find a way to get back to the Eastern Conference Finals and the Finals and have an opportunity to win a championship. So everything has to be evaluated. We’ve had a pretty good track record as having the longest running succession to the playoffs six years in a row.’’

In the coming days the Magic will have to make decisions on Jameer Nelson (who can opt out of his contract), Ryan Anderson (a restricted free agent) and J.J. Redick (a non-guaranteed contract for 2012-13), but the most pressing issues are the futures of Smith and Van Gundy. Smith put his chances of returning at ``50-50,’’ a vague gauge he used all season when asked about whether or not Howard would stay with the franchise long term. Smith said he will talk with his family in the coming days about whether or not he will continue to serve in his current role with the team.

``This season we’ve been digesting it all year. It’s been the longest short season we’ve ever had,’’ Smith said. ``But it’s something you have to go through. Like any professional sports franchise, at some point they all have to go through some uncertainty and this was our year.

``Everyone goes through an evaluation process,’’ Smith continued. ``As of right now, my plan is to continue to be the general manager of the team.’’

Van Gundy has been the Magic’s most successful coach in team history, winning 31 playoff games in five seasons. Van Gundy said on Wednesday that he is his own harshest critic and it will take him some time to get over losing in the first round of the playoffs for a second straight year. Van Gundy, who has one more year remaining on his contract, is hoping to learn about his fate as soon as possible.

``I’m very comfortable being judged on the results and how my team performs on a nightly basis. If the people evaluating me think I’m doing a good job, they’ll keep me. If they don’t, they won’t,’’ Van Gundy said. ``I think I know better than anyone because I have been around this business a long time, and I’m a harsher critic of myself than anyone else is. I think I know what I have done well and what I haven’t done well. Nothing they do in terms of a decision will change what I think of the job that I’ve done.’’

The biggest issue as it relates to Van Gundy’s return is his ability to coexist with Howard after the two had a public spat late in the season. Van Gundy went public with information that Howard had asked for him to be fired, a claim that Howard denied. Van Gundy and Howard communicated twice following the all-star center’s back surgery to repair a herniated disc, and Van Gundy said he sees no reason why the two can’t continue to being the most successful player-coach duo in franchise history.

``When you are talking about a professional relationship, what matters to me are the results,’’ Van Gundy said. ``Professional relationships should be based on winning and not on whether people like one another. To me, the relationship was great because there were a lot of wins. Dwight will have to comment from his side what he thinks is important, but for me all I’ve cared about were the results. I thought we got great results, he and I together. The success of this organization was overwhelmingly because of his play. But the rest of it is irrelevant. We have and we did (work well together). I mean we were 32-18 through 50 games this year. It’s clear that we can work together.’’

Added Martins: ``I believe they did coexist this year. We won a lot of games, so in that regard they proved that they could (coexist). At the end of the day, it’s about winning. If they can win together then they can coexist. We just have to evaluate whether that can be done moving forward.’’

Smith and several players, notably Redick and Anderson, threw their support behind Van Gundy, saying they hoped that he would continue to stalk the sidelines in Orlando for years to come. Smith made it sound as if Van Gundy will continue to be the Magic’s head coach if he remains in his role as the team’s President of Basketball Operations.

``Stan is a helluva basketball coach. The question is does he deserve to be retained as a coach? Sure, he does,’’ Smith said emphatically. ``He’s done everything that I’ve asked him to do and then some. He’s one of the best basketball coaches and basketball minds I’ve been around in some time.’’

Training camp opened late because of the lockout, and when it did get started word leaked that Howard had asked to be traded. But he ultimately rescinded that demand on March 15 when he voided the opt-out clause in his contract, meaning he has a deal with the Magic through next season.

Martins has said several times since March that the Magic can’t afford to go through another drama-filled season where the storylines revolve more around Howard’s future than Orlando’s success on the court. The franchise will press Howard to sign a long-term contract extension prior to the start of training camp and could pursue a blockbuster trade if Howard balks.

Said Martins: ``It was a trying season on everyone. I don’t think anyone wants to go through the kind of trying season that we just went through again.’’

As for the players on the Magic squad that closed out the season with Tuesday’s 105-87 Game 5 loss to the Pacers, Nelson and Anderson stressed that they hope their free agency situations send them back to Orlando. Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis, Orlando’s bright spot throughout the last month of the season, said he’d be staying in Orlando all summer in hopes of bettering himself so that he’s an unquestioned starter for the Magic next season. As for Redick, his future with the team is uncertain with the final year of his contract being nonguaranteed. Like several others on the team, he is hoping for some resolution to a somewhat cloudy future.

``I’ve been told that there will be clarity with management in the next few weeks,’’ said Redick, who will know by July 8 whether or not his contract will be retained for next season. ``Hectic would be a good word to describe this season. But of our team that finished the season, I was proud to be a part of that group.

``It’s a little depressing and disappointing to lose in the first round of the playoffs each of the last two years,’’ Redick continued. ``For the next six weeks having to watch the NBA playoffs and see other teams play games it’s going to miserable. I want to win a championship and we’ve got to get back to those kind of expectations around here.’’

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

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