The Orlando Magic held a news conference Wednesday morning to announce the resignation of team CEO Bob Vander Weide, the news of which leaked yesterday. Vander Weide, who joined the organization in 1992, will move into a consulting role as he pursues other business ventures. Alex Martins, already the team's president, will take on Vander Weide's duties, with Dan DeVos stepping in as chairman. Martins, Dan DeVos, and DeVos' brother Dick will serve as the Magic's governors in NBA meetings, representing team owner Rich DeVos. Vander Weide, Martins, Dan DeVos, and President of Basketball Operations Otis Smith all attended Wednesday's presser.
"People are gonna say, 'Why now?'" Vander Weide said in his opening remarks of his retirement. "We got this beautiful building [Amway Center], I got a great leadership team, I got a brother-in-law [Dan DeVos] who is ready to take the baton and will do a phenomenal job at it. But I made a commitment to the [DeVos] family that serving on the Planning Committee and Labor Committee, I would get through that process completely, I would do my part, my hardest, as a worker, to on those committees of nine support a process that would get this season started." He clarified he began thinking of retirement "within the last nine months to a year" because "I could feel [the job] was starting to wear on me." He emphasized numerous times throughout the conference that he intended to make this move after fulfilling his obligations to the Planning and Labor Committees, to which NBA commissioner David Stern appointed him.
"Change is difficult for everybody involved," DeVos said when Vander Weide ceded the floor to him. "But the good news in this change is that it should be--and will be--a pretty seamless operation. We have anticipated change within our family for a long time."
However, the topics the media really wanted to discuss were Dwight Howard's pending free agency, as well as the reports that Vander Weide "drunk-dialed" the Magic's superstar a few nights ago, urging him to stay with Orlando. Though Vander Weide admitted Tuesday to David Baumann of Bright House Sports Network to having a few glasses of wine prior to his phone call with Howard, he denied was intoxicated. That subject came up again in the news conference, a partial transcript of which follows the jump.
"You need to be clear on this: that phone conversation has not changed my relationship with Dwight."
When the floor opened for questioning, Daralene Jones from Orlando's Channel 9 asked Vander Weide about that phone call. Their exchange got tense.
"Did you drunk dial Dwight Howard?" Jones asked.
No I didn't," Vander Weide said. "And let me just make this statement once on that phone call."
Jones interjected: "You called him, but you weren't drunk?"
I'm gonna finish my statement, please," said Vander Weide.
"Social event. We play paddle up in the Midwest. I had a couple glasses of wine. I had received texts and phone calls from Dwight and thought it prudent still to return the call. I was not drunk. I had had two, maybe three glasses of wine over three hours.
"And--you need to be clear on this, that phone conversation has not changed my relationship with Dwight. We like each other. We even love each other, as people. He's always reached out to me. That phone call has not changed his feeling about this organization. And third, maybe not as important, that phone conversation has nothing to do with us being here today."
But Jones continued pressing Vander Weide on the subject, asking him if he recalled saying the following on the phone call. Note that the reporter is quoting verbatim from Deadspin's fictional, satirical transcript of what the conversation might have been like.
"Do you recall saying 'Me and Otis and Stan [Van Gundy], we don't want you to go anywhere. We suck without you. Everyone knows. We've got nothing else. Orlando is a terrible place, and we've got the Amway thing, but who the ["f"] cares?' Do you recall saying any of that?" Jones asked.
"I will not talk specifics of conversations with our players," Vander Weide said.
"The people of Orlando spent a lot of money on this new venue," the reporter went on. "They would probably like to know if you're out there trashing the city. Can you answer that question?"
"I can easily answer that," Vander Weide said, his voice becoming sharp. "For 21 years, I have tried to put this community first. And for the remaining years of my life, Orlando will be a home for me. And I would never trash Orlando."
Jones made one last effort to extract details from the departing CEO: "Clear it up for us: what did you say when you called him?"
"I told you," he said. "I'm not talking about my conversation."
After a split-second pause: "Those are private."
"Our goal is to keep 12 in a Magic uniform for the rest of his career."
Smith fielded questions about Howard's free agency, seemingly to his chagrin. "Our goal is to keep 12 in a Magic uniform for the rest of his career," he said, referencing Howard by his uniform number. But if Howard decides he'd rather not be with the Magic, "we will do what we have to," Smith said. Notably, he did not ever use the word "trade" in today's news conference.
"At the end of the day, our objective is to win a title and protect this franchise," Smith said. "So we will do what we have to do in order to do that. Our objective is to keep him in a uniform. However, if that's not the case, we will move in another direction."
"At the end of the day the decision will come down to him."
Smith became animated--not angry, but animated--when asked if he had a sense of how patient Howard would be with the team's efforts to furnish him with more talented teammates.
"We're gonna continue to put the best team on the floor to win an NBA title," Smith said. "That doesn't necessarily mean that we're going to listen to everything Dwight has to say and placate to that. That doesn't necessarily mean how our organization is ran. Our organization is ran... we want him here as long as we can have him here, and our organization is ran to win a title. We built a culture here for a reason.
"We're doing our jobs," Smith continued. "I'm doing my job. And at the end of the day the decision will come down to him. It's not gonna come down to the people sitting at this podium. It's gonna come down to Dwight Howard.
"And then at that point, we have to make another decision."
"No contingency plans"
One reporter asked about what "contingencies" the Magic have in place should Howard decide to take his talents elsewhere. "As for contingency plans," Smith said in reply, "there's really no contingency plans because he's gonna be here."
And then Vander Weide stepped in. "Through my conversations, I think mentally Dwight is in a good place and I think that's for this organization and him to work through. But I think that's a good thing."
"We are doing everything we can to make sure Dwight knows this is home for him."
Vander Weide acknowledged the stress sports executives deal with when there's potential for a star player to leave, as Orlando is with Howard. "It's a taxing process," he said, "but you learn from each one. We are doing everything we can to make sure Dwight knows this is home for him."
He was then asked if he was referring to Shaquille O'Neal, who left the Magic for the Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent in 1996.
"I am referring to experiences in the past that we've learned from, yes," he said with a smile. He never referred to O'Neal by name.
On the whole, one gets the sense that Vander Weide's departure won't affect the Magic too much, as Martins and DeVos are already intimately familiar with the organization; they won't need to go through an acclamation process. Smith noted it'd be hard for him to work closer with Martins than he already does, and he will continue to ask Vander Weide for advice on both basketball and business; he added that Vander Weide advises him at times on how to deal with "my counterparts" around the rest of the NBA.
As for Howard? There's little new to report on that front: the team is doing whatever it can to keep him, but if he wants to leave, then he'll leave. But it's very clear that questions about his future will dominate this season, and make the games small by comparison.