Jeff Van Gundy, former NBA head coach, ABC/ESPN analyst, and brother of former Orlando Magic head coach Stan, told a radio station on Monday that Magic fans have to be wondering if it's "worth it" to continue to back the Magic. And though that's a pretty over-the-top, overwrought statement, we're bound to agree from afar. This is another low point in that franchise's history, and while it's true that it's easy to pile on during the summer of 2012 before all that eventual cap space hits, or a trade exception is used, we wouldn't blame Magic fans in the slightest for throwing their hands up and walking away.
[Adrian Wojnarowski: Dwight Howard needs to leave clown act in Orlando]
And the Orlando Magic have nobody to blame but themselves. Not the Los Angeles Lakers, not the NBA's collective bargaining agreement, not Shaquille O'Neal, not Tracy McGrady, and not Dwight Howard — as pathetic as he made this whole ordeal. Before we go any further, here's Jeff's take, as transcribed by the absolutely invaluable Sports Radio Interviews:
"I think long-term if you're an Orlando Magic fan today is a day where you have to ask yourself is it worth it? Because we've had three stars in our time, in Orlando, we had Shaquille O'Neal who went free agency and left. We had Tracy McGrady and he forced his way out and I was the beneficiary of that. Then third you had Dwight Howard who forced his way out. You have to ask yourself, is it worth it?
"Because even if we get the guys are we going to be able to keep the guys? So much is being made of draft picks. Those draft picks are great if, like Oklahoma City, you have the ability to have the second, third and fourth pick in the draft and get (Kevin) Durant, (Russell) Westbrook, (James) Harden and (Serge) Ibaka. You've got to get those picks and then you have to draft the right guys and they've got to come together like those guys have and then you have to be able to retain them like Oklahoma City has but Orlando, when they have gotten their best players, whatever reason, it hasn't worked out and I really, really feel for their fan base."
Everyone does. There are 30 teams in the NBA, and just nine of them have won championships in the last 32 years. Fans of certain squads are right to wonder if their team's turn is ever going to come. How does a franchise like Orlando move its way through Shaq, Chris Webber (traded on draft day), Tracy McGrady and Dwight Howard in 20 years and come out with so little to show for it?
(We know, we know. The giant trade exception. Some cap space they were going to have anyway. Lower rung first-round draft picks.)
Bad management, that's how. The same management that committed to Brian Hill as coach — twice. The same management that brought in Horace Grant on a lowball offer in 1994, knowing it would have to pay the piper for both Grant and O'Neal in 1996, then making an uncompetitive offer to O'Neal even as Los Angeles was furiously creating cap space to go after the giant. The same management that decided to sell low on McGrady, in exchange for Steve Francis. The same management that spent so much money on Rashard Lewis, and stuck with former GM Otis Smith for too long. The same management that took too long to hire a new GM with the free-agency period fast approaching, and then made a panic trade in dealing Dwight Howard.
A panic trade after nine months of trade deliberations. That's really hard to do!
Whine all you want about big-market teams loading up on players, but this still comes down to proper management. The skinflint Chicago Bulls and small-market San Antonio Spurs tied for the NBA's best record last year. The Oklahoma City Thunder was in the Finals. The big-market Los Angeles Lakers have lost eight of their last nine second-round games, and the giant-market New York Knicks remain a laughingstock even with all those former All-Stars.
It comes down to timing, and smarts. The Magic have had terrible timing (the Lakers, in pouncing on the panicking Magic, Hornets and Memphis Grizzlies for Howard, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, have had great timing), and they haven't made many brilliant moves both within that terribly timed context and outside out of it. Looking back, it's a wonder they even chose Howard over Emeka Okafor in 2004.
As much as we're looking forward to what could be a pretty legendarily special Lakers team this fall, it's just fine to be a little dispirited in watching the league's most loathed player suit up at starting center. And it's just as fine to want to walk away from the Magic. You can chide fans as front-runners or bandwagonesque, but you'd be missing the point. Yes, it takes a real gamer to stick with teams through thick and thin, but that shouldn't preclude fans from dumping their allegiances as a form of protest. Magic fans have been wronged; and while Dwight Howard has been an immature prat through all of this, the team's front office has been failing them for nearly two decades now.
At some point enough is enough. And no amount of trade exceptions and "flexibility" can make it any better. Even if it turns out to be "worth it," whatever Magic fans that are left won't know for years.
This is the low point. It's also more than OK to also make this the point where you say goodbye.
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