By Michael Collins
Stan Van Gundy: Five seasons as Orlando Magic head coach. A .653 winning percentage. Five playoff appearances. Three division championships. One trip to the NBA Finals. Normally after a tenure like that - even with two straight first round playoff exits - teams are talking about contract extensions with a coach. Stan Van Gundy was fired.
Stan Van Gundy wasn't fired because he was a bad coach, or because he never won an NBA championship. He was fired because he had a rocky relationship with one of the biggest superstars in the NBA, Dwight Howard. And when you're a coach, and you get yourself into a tenuous back-and-forth with one of the NBA's elite players...don't renew the lease on that condo.
It doesn't matter that this was a lockout shortened season, with no real training camp or practices. It doesn't matter that Dwight Howard was injured near the end of the season and wasn't available for the playoffs. It doesn't matter that outside of Howard, most people couldn't name two other players on Orlando's roster. It doesn't matter that Howard had one of the best seasons of his career. What matters is that Dwight Howard lost faith in Van Gundy, and therefore the Orlando Magic organization lost faith in Van Gundy.
The he-said/she-said of whether or not Dwight Howard ever went to Magic management and asked for Van Gundy to be removed is still out there. Howard says no. Someone told Van Gundy differently. And Magic GM Otis Smith is "not returning" to the team. In my estimation, that adds up to Howard said it to Smith, who in turn was not supposed to repeat it to Van Gundy (but did), and then Howard had to backtrack and deny having said it. The team had to save face.
Magic CEO Alex Martins made a statement regarding the Dwight Howard - Stan Van Gundy Situation:
"I don’t think there’s any surprise that there were challenges in the relationship between Dwight and Stan. But let me say in no uncertain terms that Dwight did not want to be part of this decision, he did not want to make this decision, he never asked me to make this decision. Yes, their relationship was a challenge, but Dwight Howard never asked me to fire Stan Van Gundy."
Excuse me, but I'd like to spread a little of that fertilizer on my lawn please.
Whether or not Howard actually came forth and asked for Van Gundy to be fired (which I think he did) isn't the issue. The issue is that it was obvious the two were not going to be able to co-exist any longer. Howard made it clear in his public statements, and in his behavior, that if Van Gundy was coming back, he would want to play elsewhere. So if you are the Magic, who are you going to sacrifice?
Stan Van Gundy fell victim to one of the cruelest truths in modern professional sports. The coaches, with few exceptions, only hold the reigns on the team of horses for purposes of show. When one of the prize stallions wants to go a different direction, there is little the coach can do to change that. It's a dangerous and destructive precedent that has been set in nearly every professional league.
Is it about the amount of money these superstars are being paid? Is it about their egos? Or is the coach simply being used as a scapegoat for the failings of players to get the job done?
In seven-plus seasons as a head coach with the Miami Heat and the Orlando Magic, Van Gundy has never had a losing season. He's never missed the playoffs, and the Miami Heat team that he resigned from in 2005-2006 season after 21 games (after clashing with yet another huge ego) went on to win an NBA Championship.
By all accounts, Stan Van Gundy is one of the best coaches in the NBA, unfortunately he keeps running into egos that overshadow his excellence as a coach. This madness of letting the so-called elite players dictate terms to the team has ruined more than one franchise, and fans are growing weary of these egocentric millionaires and their childish games. If you are a player, and you are being paid to play, then go out there and do it. Execute to the best of your ability the schemes and plays that your coach asks you to. If it fails, then it can land squarely on the coaches shoulders and the team's management will recognize on their own that a change needs to be made. They don't need the help of tantrums from players.
Truthfully, when all is said and done, and you count the chips at the end of respective careers...my money is on Van Gundy to have more championship rings than Dwight Howard.
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