It's a bit of an understatement to point out that the Orlando Magic have been through their fair share of controversy this season, what with a franchise player clearly wanting to don another uniform and/or fire his team's celebrated head coach at the same time. There's another minor controversy brewing down in Florida, though, with the demotion of backup point man Chris Duhon. Duhon, who is just seven years removed from acting as the starting point guard on a 47-win team, is one of the worst rotation players in the NBA. And, for some reason, he's compounding this by clashing with head coach Stan Van Gundy.
Battling with SVG is a time-honored NBA art, but it's only NBA-legal if you have the ability to drop 30 points and collect 20 rebounds on any given night; as Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard can. But when you're a point guard that struggles to score, and only manages 4.4 assists for every 36 minutes of playing time? The patience isn't as thick. Unlike Duhon, according to some Orlando observers.
Steve Kyler, a Florida-based NBA scribe who founded Hoopsworld (nee BskBall), wrote on Wednesday that Duhon has "quit" on Van Gundy, but even if the pair had the healthiest of relationships, replacing Duhon in the rotation with second-year guard Ish Smith is a positive step for a Magic team that has been dealing with nothing but negative juju all season long. The latest culmination of which came in the form of Duhon's suspension for Monday's game against the Pistons, amid rumors that he had blown off two Magic practices.
It's a small sample, spread out over just 167 minutes, but Smith has played solid basketball for the Magic this season — managing 10 points and over eight assists for every 36 minutes he's played, with a nearly 4-to-1 assist to turnover ratio. This could be a fluke run, Smith's play in Houston and Memphis last season was decidedly poor, but he's also a 23-year-old point guard still learning these particular ropes.
Duhon? His poor play this season could only be described as "typical," at this point. Leaned on for veteran, Duke-studied guidance at outposts in Chicago and New York prior to his time in Orlando, Duhon hasn't posted an average Player Efficiency Rating in his seven-year NBA career, and he's managed a single-digit PER (for our newer listeners, this is really, really bad) in both seasons with the Magic. There are rumors that his off-court habits could be contributing to his sluggish play, and with starting point guard Jameer Nelson often struggling to consistently contribute, Van Gundy deservedly is taking on whatever he can grab at the backup point guard slot.
And this is what the Magic, and GM Otis Smith (who could be replaced with former Pacers and Knicks GM Donnie Walsh this summer) in particular, deserve for signing a player who had shot above 40.8 percent just once in his NBA career prior to Duhon's 2010 acquisition. Duhon isn't a major millstone, at just $3.5 million this year and the next (and less than half that, in 2013-14, guaranteed), but Smith could have done better.
Stan Van Gundy? Despite Dwight Howard's wishes, he's not done in Orlando just yet. But he's made a sound move in deciding to be done with Chris Duhon.