Matt Guokas was not retained as the Orlando Magic’s color commentator for the 2013-14 season on Friday, and nobody appears to understand why. No replacement has been named.
The Magic, and Fox Sports Florida, weakly decided to drop the news early Friday evening, the best time to squelch a story you hope nobody will have neither the time nor the platform to react to. This is why we waited until Monday to tell as many people that will listen about the Magic’s miserable mistake.
The news won’t matter much to fair weather NBA fans, but to those of us that make our living diving into the NBA League Pass package from October until April, desperately trying to keep up with each of the league’s 30 teams, Guokas has been a welcome voice throughout the legions of both blithely unaware and doggedly partisan local NBA color analysts. That isn’t to say I don’t enjoy the great majority of local color guys, as that majority are usually quite good.
Guokas was great, though. The best, perhaps. And he won’t be back with the Magic next season, for whatever reason.
On Monday, Guokas issued a polite response:
“While the org. has decided to go in another direction, I appreciate the opportunity that the DeVos family has given me over the years. I thank the fans, arena workers, and people that I come across around town. I am grateful for their support….Matty.”
(What follows is my impolite response, after three days of telling myself not to say anything too harsh about Fox and the Magic’s decision.)
Here’s how accurate Guokas was. When he pointed out the team’s flaws, I didn’t even notice that he was standing out.
That means that Guokas, speaking directly to an objective observer watching a team this objective observer doesn’t for or against thousands of miles away, was getting it right. And apparently the Magic don’t want him to get it right. We’re left to assume as much, due to their TV radio silence on the matter.
Guokas has been lauded for his objective takes, but it isn’t as if any of us tuned into Magic games thinking, “this is the guy that really sticks it to the home team.” I can’t think of one League Pass observer or Orlando-based journalist that has ever pointed to Guokas as ever being needlessly acerbic or too over the top in his takes. It’s true that ratings dipped in Orlando last year, but that’s an obvious reaction to the team dealing Dwight Howard, and even team el jefe Alex Martins went on record to point out that “in my opinion, and most data reflects this, that of all the components of our business, television ratings are most affected by wins and losses,” in a talk with the Orlando Sentinel from last March.
The dip in the ratings is a reaction to a 20-win season, so we can’t blame Guokas for fans fleeing in droves. So why the search for a new analyst? The Orlando Magic front office smartly went into 2013-14 determined to rebuild from the ground up, but apparently Fox and the team’s ownership are convinced that a color analyst exists out there that can convince fans to buy tickets for a game that features Arron Afflalo on that night’s program cover. Which is an absurd and deluded line of thinking, right in line with what the team’s brass (this does not include general manager Rob Hennigan and his staff) have shown throughout the years with their wild fits of pleased-with-itself fancy.
They wouldn’t be the first to get it all wrong about Matt Guokas. I used to be one of those dolts.
Years ago, when Guokas was paired with Marv Albert as the NBA on NBC’s lead duo, I took issue with what I perceived to be lingering resentment over his time as an NBA head coach in Philadelphia and Orlando. Also, at the time, I also took issue with a paucity of options for acne medications, and my inability to make a real life girlfriend out of Milla Jovovich. It was because I was 16, and a massive idiot. Re-watching tapes of those old games a decade later proved as much.
Years later, half a decade into my time with NBA League Pass and with a pro gig at SI.com to call my own, Guokas returned to the scene as the Magic’s color analyst in 2004-05. I prepared to dislike the guy’s work, mindful of my 1997-era takes, but instead the man turned out to be fantastic.
Then, as the years moved on and the NBA community at larger became a smarter, braver thing, Guokas took to the forefront amongst local analysts when it came to checking every website he could, and possibly considering that statistics beyond what we saw in the box score might have some relevance. Best, he wasn’t just an on-camera link machine, clouding up his analysis with raw numbers and citations. He merely grew smarter with the new information, and moved along while using his own voice. Kinda what we’re all supposed to do.
Matt Guokas didn’t have to do any of this. He called the entirety of the Dwight Howard era in Orlando, but these were also local broadcasts that didn’t have any range beyond that area, and the homes of NBA League Pass freaks. He played on one of the greatest teams ever. He was an assistant coach on the 1983 NBA champion 76ers. He was Julius Erving’s head coach. He was the Magic’s beloved first coach, and he could have glided on that resume for years.
Instead, he followed the influence of his active basketball mind, in talking about a game he loves.
These are the people we fire, apparently.
These are also the people we should be hiring. Matt Guokas has significant national experience, back in an era when NBA ratings (along with all network ratings) were through the roof. Best, he knows the modern game. He won’t act surprised, as some busy local analysts do, the time a team from another conference comes into town for its lone appearance, and does something that seems out of the ordinary.
Come fall, Matt Guokas needs to be back on TV.