Even prior to last night, Stan Van Gundy had earned the distinction of being the most successful coach in Orlando Magic history. His 200th win with Orlando, achieved in Wednesday's 111-96 victory over the Indiana Pacers, gives us occasion to reflect on his impressive tenure at the Magic's helm.
Van Gundy's style--both in the way he conducts himself and the way he asks his team to play--has come under fire from some folks who find him, or it, or both, disagreeable. I'm not sure what the objection is, to be honest. For all the fetishizing of defense hoops heads engage in, you'd think they'd be inclined to credit Van Gundy for designing and maintaining one of the league's top defenses over the last three-plus seasons despite counting Dwight Howard, Courtney Lee, Mickael Pietrus, and Matt Barnes as above-average individual defenders during his tenure. The Magic don't live and die by the three, as some people in the media would have you believe, thanks to Howard's ability to score inside and Jameer Nelson's shot-creation skill out of the pick-and-roll. And I'll never understand why Van Gundy takes such heat for his candid interviews and animated sideline demeanor, really. We want all our coaches to be smarmy wiseacres (Phil Jackson) or gruff hardasses (Jerry Sloan)? Van Gundy's controversial "style" is one that's led to his team winning more than 67 percent of its games here. What's there to argue with, exactly? His voice? His wardrobe?
After the jump, a season-by-season look at Van Gundy's success with the Magic.
Van Gundy took the Magic's head-coaching position prior to the 2007/08 season, after Billy Donovan backed out of his Orlando contract to remain with the University of Florida's program. The Magic lucked out thanks to Donovan's waffling, as it freed them to assign a coach with a solid NBA resume. Despite the addition of Van Gundy and free-agent pickup Rashard Lewis, some NBA observers didn't peg the Magic to earn a playoff spot, a subject I covered when Orlando traded Lewis for Gilbert Arenas last month. In response, though, the team won 52 games, the first of three consecutive Southeast Division titles, and a playoff series. Veteran small forward Hedo Turkoglu made great strides facilitating the Magic's offense and earned Most Improved Player honors, while Howard blossomed to an All-NBA First-Teamer.
The next season, Orlando surprised everyone with 59 wins despite losing Nelson, who earned an All-Star roster spot from Van Gundy's coaching peers, for the final 38 games of the regular season. It then blasted through the Philadelphia 76ers (after trailing 2-1), Boston Celtics (after trailing 3-2), and the NBA-best Cleveland Cavaliers on its way to the NBA Finals, where it fell in 5 games to the L.A. Lakers. Howard won the first of two straight Defensive Player of the Year awards. In addition, Nelson would've been a strong Most Improved Player candidate had he remained healthy.
In 2009/10, the Magic picked up another 59 wins and swept through the first two rounds of the playoffs, taking down the league's best defense (the Charlotte Bobcats) and one of the league's best offenses (the Atlanta Hawks) due in part to Van Gundy's meticulous game-planning. The Magic bowed out in their second consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearance as the Celtics exacted their revenge, which certainly cast a blight over the season in retrospect. But counting the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Magic closed the regular season on a 41-8 tear, clearly the NBA's best team over that stretch.
All of this is merely to say that Van Gundy's helped the Magic exceed most reasonable expectations since he took over the team. He won't take any of the credit, though, in typical Van Gundy fashion. When asked about the possibility of reaching the 200-win mark on Monday, here's how Van Gundy responded:
"This is probably the best collection of talent that there's ever been here for this stretch of time. That pretty much explains our success. I would say that I did a very good job of taking the job at the right time. That's the thing I've done best."
Here's to more success for Van Gundy and his Magic. We'll give him some credit even if he doesn't believe he's earned it.