Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE
When superstar center Dwight Howard waived his Early Termination Option on the day of the NBA trading deadline, and thereby ensured he'd stay with the Orlando Magic through the 2012/13 season, their season was supposed to become less complicated, and not more. Free from the distractions Howard's pending free agency brought about, the team could simply go about its business.
But Thursday's events changed all that, as coach Stan Van Gundy went on the record and said he learned from management that Howard has indeed asked the team to fire Van Gundy. Moments later, Howard, with his arm draped around his coach, denied that he'd made such a request.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Van Gundy's move Thursday was a calculated one. "He wanted it out there," Wojnarowski says, citing "a league source close" to the Magic and Van Gundy. "Yes, I'm gone. So stop tanking. Stop trying to get me fired. When the season is over, you'll get your wish. For now, let's play. Let's try to win."
Wojnarowski says some people within the Magic organization believe Howard was healthy enough to play during the team's recent losses to the Denver Nuggets and Detroit Pistons, but elected to sit out due to "back spasms" so the team would continue losing. "They have to have a reason to blame someone," one of Wojnarowski's sources told the Yahoo! scribe. "If they win, and he gets fired, everyone will know it's on the player. Losing gives everyone an out when the season's over, especially Howard."
The team is divided between Van Gundy and Howard, with "most" siding with the coach and "some" taking the side of the franchise's all-time leading scorer. "We're split," one Magic player told Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel.
Wojnarowski says Howard will win this dispute, as "it is far more important to keep Howard over Van Gundy" and "you have to pick the star over the coach." What's troublesome, he says, is Howard's attitude about the whole situation. He could have come out and said he did ask management to fire Van Gundy, but instead he continued to lie. Wojnarowski blames the Magic for "creat[ing] a culture where they'll constantly cover for him."
Orlando is in the midst of a four-game losing streak, tying the longest such string of fulility under Van Gundy's watch. The Magic haven't lost five consecutive games since the 2006/07 season, when Brian Hill was at the helm. They face the New York Knicks on Thursday night.