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When former Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy "resigned" to spend more time with his family following the Heat's slow start to the 2005-06 season, he took the high road after being replaced by Heat President Pat Riley, stepping aside silently in the wake of Shaquille O'Neal's displeasure with SVG's exacting ways while remaining on the Miami payroll. Stan was fired by the Magic in late May, and even though he'll remain on the team's payroll, and he's not exactly taking the high and silent road this time around.
Lucky for us, his aim on the low road is absolutely spot on. In an interview with Orlando Sentinel scribe Mike Bianchi on Bianchi's radio show, Van Gundy blasted newly ensconced Magic CEO Alex Martins for the embarrassing turn the team has made since Martins took over the position from the retiring Bob Vander Weide last winter.
"It's a typical lack of understanding from someone who has no sports knowledge, who has never coached or played, who has never been in a locker room….it's a naiveté," Van Gundy said of Martins Monday morning on Mike Bianchi's show on AM 740.
"….I'll stand on the relationships with players based on the results we got.
"I think Alex's comments are based on the fact that Dwight and maybe others didn't like me…and thinking somehow that's important."
Yikes. Stan is basically taking a "count tha ringzz!"-approach in defending the fallout in his final year with the Magic, pointing to a 2009 Finals appearance and his team's consistent solid play despite Howard's halfhearted 2011-12 effort. It's a dangerous thing to do, if we're honest (especially because there are no rings to count, here). We're also reminded of former Atlanta Hawks coach Hubie Brown defending his foul mouth pointed at former Hawks guard John Drew in an interview with Spike Lee, quietly reminding Lee that "the only time Drew was an All-Star was when he was with me."
(Which actually wasn't true, Drew made the team the year before Brown took over in Atlanta, but it's Hubie Brown so shut up.)
Van Gundy is correct when he points out that, at times, it really isn't "important" if stars dig their coaches. Magic Johnson famously got Paul Westhead fired, but he clashed for years with Pat Riley. Michael Jordan broke plays and had Phil Jackson's Chicago Bulls coaching staff spitting mad all the time, Larry Bird always preferred Bill Fitch over K.C. Jones, and the next coach Shaquille O'Neal gets along with will be his first. Too bad he's retired.
This can't be a blanket statement, though, in either direction. Sometimes things don't work out, and great coaches have to go. Van Gundy clearly didn't think he had to go, he didn't appreciate Martins firing him phone after five years on the job, and he surely didn't appreciate the 13-day waiting period between Orlando's first round ouster and the team's dismissal of the coach that seemed to be a dead man walking all the way back in April.
Throughout the interview, Stan says he is willing to take some blame for the way things went down, but he also harbors a very serious sense of nostalgia for the Vander Weide and former GM Otis Smith pairing that lorded over a series of disastrous deals (including hiring Florida's Billy Donovan to coach the Magic before he dropped out and made way for Van Gundy) that made Howard so unhappy with his limited supporting cast.
From the chat:
"The Dwight thing was so big….in an effort, I guess, to make Dwight happy and everything else, we compromised a lot of the culture and values we had before that. It's always a mistake when you compromise those things…everything goes South. It was no longer a team-first thing," he said. "It was inevitable things would not go as well.
"When Bob left, it really became Alex over everything," Van Gundy told AM 740.
Which makes sense. Though Smith was given the go-ahead to try and find a midseason suitor in a deal for Howard, he was clearly on the eventual outs as the season started. Orlando should have immediately let go of Smith following Howard's opting-in to his 2012-13 contract in late March and attempted to find a GM as soon as it could. Instead, the team dragged things out and hired Rob Hennigan just days before the draft in late June, killing any sort of potential for a new GM to explore a deal for Howard with the added influence and possible bargaining position that an NBA draft provides.
There's nothing on record that suggests that Martins was behind the much-criticized deal for Howard, and Hennigan has been thoughtful and clearly knowledgeable as he's discussed Orlando's take for the center. And as someone who wasn't around when Orlando dumped Van Gundy, Hennigan is under absolutely no obligation to utter the name "Stan Van Gundy" or defend his dismissal. On top of all this, even if we agree with Stan, he's also someone who was just fired from a job that he liked regardless of all the storm and stress.
From a gossiper's standpoint, though? To see a former COO come in and dominate Magic press conferences (like Howard's opting-in, last March, or the hiring of Hennigan in June and coach Jacque Vaughn in July) in ways that Vander Weide (no stranger to publicity, with his courtside seat and late night dalliances) rarely did? To see a highly regarded young basketball mind make a confusing deal involving Howard at a very strange time of the year? You're just fine to think that there could be fire behind this smoke, even if it's a fired ex-coach fanning the flames.
And, unlike 2005, it's nice to see Stan sticking around. Apparently he's set to take to our TV sets as an NBA analyst this fall, which should be a good thing.
Although, Stan's not a TV guy. And non-TV guys tend to take to these sorts of gigs with a healthy sense of naiveté. Could Stan Van Gundy be the Alex Martins of the basic cable world?
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