So, Thursday was a rough day for the Orlando Magic. First, coach Stan Van Gundy confirmed reports that All-Star center Dwight Howard had gone to team management and called for Van Gundy to be fired. That led to a surreal and awkward scene when Howard walked into Van Gundy's presser — unaware he'd just been put on blast in what Yahoo! Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski called a liberating revelation for the coach — and was buffeted with questions about his role in the intra-squad squabble.
After repeating his denial of the reports, Howard later fumed over being "thrown under the bus," refusing to talk to media before the Magic's nationally televised Thursday night matchup with the New York Knicks. And then he went out and had one of his worst games of the season, scoring a whisper-quiet eight points on eight shots in nearly 40 minutes of playing time as the Knicks blew out the Magic for the second time in less than 10 days, earning a big 96-80 road victory.
After the game, TNT "Inside the NBA" commentators Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O'Neal discussed the Magic's disappearing act, which dropped them to the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference.
"I want to be real careful with what I say right now," Barkley said. "Because you never know ... it's like the worst thing you can say about a professional jock in any sport ..."
"Is that?" Smith asked.
"... they quit," Barkley continued. "The Orlando Magic quit."
Calling Orlando's Thursday night effort "one of the least inspired" performances he can remember, Barkley said he was "disappointed as a person who loves sports" to see Howard and his teammates "in such a mental fog." The Hall-of-Famer attributed Howard's bad game "100 percent" to the post-shootaround circus, and not at all to the reported back spasms that kept him out for two games earlier this week.
Hit the jump for plenty more from the TNT crew on Orlando's awful Thursday night performance and the ongoing Howard-Van Gundy saga, plus Charles and Shaq saying things like "scumbag" and "bush league."
Smith identified in-game specifics that point to Howard not giving legitimate effort.
"Your post position was not on the box. You didn't sprint back on defense. ... I can point to the film and say, 'Pick and roll, the screen wasn't set, there was space in between, Jameer Nelson came off and so did the defender,'" Smith said. "I can point to all of the film to let you know that you didn't compete tonight. And you did not compete tonight. I'm not going to get in your head and say, 'Oh, you don't have heart,' but you did not compete."
In addition to their takes on Thursday night's contest, the panel also delved deep into the pregame circus and the insanity now permeating the Orlando organization. Claiming that he was ready to "go for the jugular" (at least, I think that's what he said) on the issue, Barkley offered his take on Magic management. It was not kind.
"We don't know what's true; it's all conjecture," Barkley began. "I don't think coach Van Gundy should have spoke that out right now and I don't think Dwight Howard should ask to have his coach fired, but I have a serious problem with somebody in management. If they had a private conversation with Dwight Howard, it should have stayed private; they should not have shared it with coach Van Gundy. I like coach Van Gundy. I don't think that was the appropriate time to drop that bombshell, especially on a game day.
"Whoever the scumbag is, if it's true, who had a private conversation — had a private conversation — with Dwight Howard, to leak that to coach Van Gundy, that's just a punk-ass move in my opinion."
Smith then shifted focus to the responsibility that Van Gundy bears for the Magic's mess.
"I get what you're saying about the private conversation, but it was always private until Van Gundy says it to the media," Smith said. "He didn't have to say it. ... He doesn't have to address it at all. Why does he have to address it? That's [Magic general manager] Otis Smith's job, to address that [question], 'is this coach being fired?' He's the only one who hires and fires, is the general manager. That's Otis Smith's job."
In Kenny Smith's view, Van Gundy's response to questions about the backroom reports should have been basic, noncommittal and brief.
"Listen, I coach this team, players are not going to like me, they're going to want me to be here [or] not depending on how the ball bounces sometimes. That's what coaching's all about. Next question," Smith said.
"I don't understand the relevance of him bringing it out now, either," Smith continued, tossing the conversation to O'Neal. "What is he accomplishing by saying it to the media? I don't understand what's being accomplished."
With that, O'Neal took the floor.
"I think it was a bush-league move by Stan Van Gundy, really, personally," O'Neal said. "He's lost his team forever now. That right there can never be repaired. You threw your main guy under the bus. Even if you guys did have a terrible relationship, now it's even worse.
"And even if they did have that conversation, I think it was the right conversation to have," O'Neal continued. "Players respect guys with proven resumes. You know, Stan's been there a while, he's a good coach, but as you know, in this league 'good' is not good enough. It's all about winning championships, and I think at some times [players] don't respect [Van Gundy's] decision-making."
[ Y! Sports Radio: Dwight Howard-SVG drama explained ]
It is perhaps worth noting that the Magic have won 52, 59, 59 and 52 games in Van Gundy's four full seasons in Orlando, that they have been playoff participants in each of those four seasons, that they went to the NBA Finals after the 2008-09 season, and that Van Gundy has a .644 winning percentage as a head coach in the NBA.
Playing the other side of the fence, Johnson asked O'Neal which is the more "bush-league move" — a player going to management and demanding his coach be fired, or a coach responding honestly to a direct question from the media about the situation. Shaq declined to discuss the latter, emphasizing that the former "has been done before."
"It has been done before," Barkley added, "but it was bush league of [management] to share that with Stan Van Gundy. They don't have to share that with him."
Kenny Smith then took the Magic's Otis Smith to task for not making the situation between Howard and Van Gundy clear from the get-go.
"I'll put it like this: If I'm the general manager and somebody comes to me, and I ask them a question and say, 'Listen ... do you want him here? Do you really want him here?' and he says, 'No, not really,' then I'm going to go, 'You know what, coach? The reason why you're not going to be here is because our big guy don't want you here,'" Kenny Smith said. "I'm going to let that be known. We're going to make that known. It's not going to be any faking the funk. We're going to let it be known."
Barkley disagreed with that clear-the-air approach, saying that by putting all the cards on the table between Howard and Van Gundy, the Magic would have effectively submarined any chance that the two could work together again.
The discussion then wrapped up with everyone making fun of Ernie Johnson and a Photoshop of Shaq as the Hulk, which is how most things should end.
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