The past week has been perhaps the greatest emotional roller coaster in Orlando Magic franchise history. Leading with former CEO Bob Vander Weide's late night phone call to Dwight Howard, and subsequent resignation, the remainder of the week pingponged between rumors that Howard requested a trade, or that Howard wanted to stay in Orlando.
Then on Saturday, Howard went before the press to admit that both are true. He'd love to stay in Orlando, but he wants to move on.
How can this be, you might ask? Perhaps it has to do with Howard's later admission that he has "no relationship" with Magic GM Otis Smith. Or that he feels the franchise hasn't included him at all when making major personnel decisions.
Today, Howard again alluded to Smith's past decisions by saying that you're either "Bar-B-Que" or "Mildew" and he wants to be Bar-B-Que.
If anything resembled mildew, it was the Magic losing in six games to the Atlanta Hawks. A playoff exit that came only months after Smith made two "blockbuster" trades, intending to provide a boost to Orlando's stagnant offense.
Stagnation really seems to be the key word. I think Howard feels like the Magic have been stagnating since their 2009 NBA Finals run.
And I couldn't agree more. I also agree that Otis Smith has a lot to do with it.
Otis Smith vs. Stan Van Gundy
I've had a sense since the failed '09 Finals appearance that Otis Smith and Stan Van Gundy simply do not agree on what makes a great basketball team. Unfortunately I can't find anything concrete on the web, but I seem to recall some conflict between them over SVG's 4 out/1 in offense, which emphasized Howard drawing double teams inside, then kicking the ball out to the perimeter for an open 3.
Many of the players Otis Smith has brought in since then haven't necessarily fit in with SVG's system. Two of the biggest acquisitions for the 2010 season, Brandon Bass and Vince Carter, were far better suited to a traditional offense.
Since then the decline has only continued, as everyone well knows. Smith has made several FA acquisitions and trades, including the "blockbuster" trades last winter, none of which have improved our team.
Again, I'm not sure what the relationship is between SVG and Otis. But I did find it pretty telling when SVG voiced his frustration during the Atlanta series at "not having a Jamal Crawford" type player.
As Dwight has expressed frustration with Otis Smith at not listening to him about personnel, I wonder if SVG receives the same treatment.
Otis Smith vs. Dwight Howard
In addition to moving away from SVG's signature offense, Otis Smith simply broke up the 2009 finals team, a move which apparently hurt Dwight a lot. The Magic lost Courtney Lee in the trade, a promising young talent with whom Howard had built a strong friendship.
That really seems to be a big part of the problem. Howard keeps losing his buddies.
Not to delve too much deeper into arm chair psychology, but from what I've seen over the past year or so, I think the problem is simply this: Dwight doesn't trust Otis. He doesn't trust him to build an effective team around him, and doesn't trust him not to ship his buddies across the country without so much as a heads up.
If the Magic were winning, Dwight would probably suck it up and accept that Otis knows what he's doing. But since 2009, the Magic have steadily gotten worse, and Howard has seen more and more of his buddies shipped off.
Meanwhile, the Magic GM seems pretty non-plussed about the whole thing, certainly about Howard's feelings. And this approach might work with a guy like Lebron James. But, as far as I can tell, Dwight Howard is not at all like Lebron James. He's a genuine guy with a big heart.
He may not know what it takes to build a championship team, and may suggest some flawed personnel moves, but that really doesn't seem to be the issue. The issue seems to be relationship. Howard has needs, apparently emotional needs, which are not being met. And Otis Smith seems unwilling to meet them, even if it means Howard leaves Orlando.
You've got one of, if not the winningest head coach in the NBA over the past four years, and arguably the best player in the NBA, frustrated with a GM whose track record since 2009 is a train wreck.
And, let's be honest, his entire track record as GM has not been impressive.
I'm increasingly convinced the Magic's success in 2009 stemmed from Stan Van Gundy coaching the way he wanted to, and Dwight Howard feeling confident enough to really step into a leadership role, as part of a team he loved.
In fact, my money says the last big trade of 2009, that brought Rafer Alston to the Magic, was all Stan Van Gundy. I think Otis went to SVG and said, what and/or who do you need? And then he went out and got him.
After that, I think Otis felt ready to start tinkering. He was going into his third year as GM, the Magic were on the cusp of a Championship. It was time for Otis Smith to shine. To build the team HE wanted, the team HE felt could beat the Lakers. And so he tinkered without regard for Van Gundy's system, or Howard's feelings.
Otis Smith took a championship-caliber Orlando Magic team and ran it into the ground.
The change in Howard's demeanor after meeting with Alex Martins could have to do with a sense that things might be different going forward. Fresh blood. I know Martins is an impressive guy who exudes confidence and optimism. The kind of guy Howard is likely to respond to.
Hard to believe a change-up at GM wouldn't build on these results.
Martins needs to bring in someone new, and someone proven. Someone who can build the relationship with Howard that Otis couldn't, or wouldn't, and give him confidence that the Magic are headed in a new, far better direction: from mildew to bar-b-que.