Trade rumors regarding All-Star center Dwight Howard dogged the Orlando Magic from training camp to the March 16th trading deadline, when Howard took the unusual step of waiving his Early Termination Option, which ensures he won't enter free agency until July 1st, 2013. Now a different sort of rumor appears to be set to hound Orlando: will the team axe head coach Stan Van Gundy and assistant coaches Ahmad Ajami, Bob Beyer, Steve Clifford, Patrick Ewing, and Brendan Malone?
A report from WKMG Channel 6 in Orlando on Wednesday indicated Howard has told Magic management he'd like to work with a new staff for the 2012/13 season, his last before he can become an unrestricted free agent. "In order for Dwight Howard to sign a contract extension this summer with the Orlando Magic," David Pingalore's sourced report reads in part, "team owners will have to fire head coach Stan Van Gundy, as well as his coaching staff."
In the days leading up to the trading deadline, reports said the Magic had offered Howard the opportunity to pick the team's new head coach and general manager, which reports the Magic moved swiftly to deny. The team took a similar tactic Wednesday, as team CEO Alex Martins told the Orlando Sentinel that management would evaluate Van Gundy and Otis Smith, the team's President of Basketball Operations, at the end of the 2011/12 season. Van Gundy and Smith are under contract through the 2012/13 season as a result of contract extensions they signed in 2010.
According to Pingalore, "the probability of Van Gundy's staff to be released from the final year of the contract is very high." Martins told the Sentinel he believes Orlando's players and coaches "have done an 'incredibly commendable job'" in light of the rumors and speculation surrounding Howard.
Other recent rumors suggest that Howard would like the Magic to hire former Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan, who serves as an assistant coach on the United States Olympic team and with whom Howard won gold at the 2008 Games. Another says Van Gundy might quit rather than let the Magic fire him.
Beyer, Clifford, Ewing, and Malone joined Van Gundy on the Magic's coaching staff shortly after the team hired Van Gundy prior to the 2007/08 season. Ajami served as a video coordinator for the first two seasons of Van Gundy's tenure before earning a promotion to assistant coach.