The Orlando Magic fired GM Otis Smith and head coach Stan Van Gundy today. Smith going may not have been expected but there is no reason at all that anyone should be surprised that Van Gundy is gone and it is unthinkable that anyone should be blaming Dwight Howard.
Shooting First and Using Reason Later
First we discuss Otis Smith. Historically, it is boom or bust when a GM is given the green light to spend. On one hand Orlando has been extremely competitive for a few years now, but on the other hand, they have spent a lot of money to do so. Giving Rashard Lewis a mega-deal was a ‘big-picture’ mistake; but he made the team better – it was moving him for Gilbert Arenas that was the biggest head scratcher of his tenure. Drafting Dwight Howard over collegiate player of the year Emeka Okefor was a risk that paid off big. After the team reached the NBA Finals with Rafer Alston at the point (the diminutive Jameer Nelson was injured) the team faced some major questions. They went with Nelson and paid him like an all-star. While I agreed with letting Hedo Turkoglu go the move to bring in Vince Carter was as bad a move as I can remember. I have always been a big fan of Jason Richardson, and getting him at a reduced rate last off-season was a great move; as was the idea to acquire Glen Davis. Letting Brandon Bass go was incredibly stupid. The huge contract given to J.J. Reddick was a total joke. All things being even Smith made a go of it. He spent too much and didn’t really put the right guys around each other. When a GM is lucky enough to get a superstar like Howard they HAVE to build the team around him. They can’t do what Sund did in Detroit with Grant Hill or what Ferry did in Cleveland with LeBron James. So, if the team is moving forward they can say with certainty that he had his shot – and he can keep his head high knowing that he gave it a gamblers’ shot.
Actions Determine Reality
With that out of the way let’s get to the REAL story: Stan Van Gundy. There is no question that the bigger of the Van Gundy brothers knows the game. He is a sound technical coach, he has a sound defensive-minded philosophy for which (aside from Howard) he was never given the proper players to execute. However, his biggest problem was not his personnel, it was his personality. In life, the way we treat people is the single most important factor in how we are perceived. If you talk down to people, you are an arrogant jerk. If you talk behind people’s backs, you are untrustworthy. In a position of leadership it is your responsibility to teach as well as to support. It is no wonder that Van Gundy’s constant public criticism of his players wore thin with a personable guy like Howard who has been a professional throughout this whole conflict despite Van Gundy’s constant baiting and goading. He has never retaliated through the media when he may have been justified in doing so.
The Many Failings of SVG
There was no better indication of Van Gundy’s failure to grasp these concepts than the press conference this year where he was proceeding to rip Howard (as usual) and Howard walked in causing Van Gundy to abruptly stop speaking. Howard walked right up to the man who was publicly lambasting him and put his arm around him. It was clear in that moment that Stan Van Gundy was not man enough to talk to his player face-to-face. He was more comfortable in front of the cameras, in front of his brother’s peers, throwing his star player under the bus. This type of behavior was a common occurance for Van Gundy during his tenure. If your boss did that to you over and over, would you have any respect for him? It doesn’t matter that Howard makes $16M a year. Respect is either earned or it isn’t. Van Gundy didn’t earn the respect of his players because he didn’t deserve it. Once a coach has a reputation for being untrustworthy and unrespected what does he have left? Results are not the only thing that matters in sports or in life, no matter that the shock-sports-radio talking heads say.
Now That the Magic is Gone
It all boils down to this: regardless of how much you are paid you want to be treated with respect in the workplace. Howard is no different than you or me in that regard. Any boss who treats his or her employees that way deserves to lose their job; and shame on anyone who would blame an employee for looking elsewhere for employment if a better opportunity arises. If anyone is to blame here it is Van Gundy for not learning his lesson in Miami; or Orlando management for letting this conflict linger until the year before Howard could leave. It is no wonder that Howard would not commit to anything this season. Would you make a promise that you know you might not keep? Management clearly left him on an island and has painted him as the bad guy who won’t commit and even leaked his ‘trade requests’ in an effort to play politics with the fanbase (who are always eager to villainize the next LeBron James). The only real question remaining is whether or not the situation in Orlando has deteriorated to the point of no return for the big guy. However, he is going to land on his feet providing that his back problems aren’t here to stay. The real losers in all of this though are the long-time fans of the team who have to now be wondering what the underlying problem is with their organization that the two great centers of the last couple decades couldn’t wait to leave.