Yesterday morning, the Orlando Magic and their coaches gathered at RDV SportsPlex for the last time this season, conducting exit interviews. Afterwards, they met with the press for their final media availability session. Coach Stan Van Gundy was the first man to emerge from the locker room and promptly drew the attention of all the assembled media in the building. Over the course of 45 minutes, and perched on the back of a couch in the lobby area, he patiently dished on a variety of topics, including the outcome of this season, Hedo Turkoglu's impending free-agency, media perception of Dwight Howard, Mickael Pietrus' role with the team, and his relationship with General Manager Otis Smith.
Before we begin, a note on methodology: I have not presented these quotes in chronological order, but rather by subject, because he revisted several topics later on during the session.
After the jump, highlights of Van Gundy's entire meeting with the media.
Subject index: Last season in general | Hedo Turkoglu's free-agency | Trade Rafer? | Signing a contract extension | Team construction and style | Nat'l media perception | Vacation plans | How Dwight can improve | The media's portrayal of Dwight | Michael Pietrus' role | His relationship with Otis
The 2008/2009 season in general:
"It was... harder for me this year than it's ever been. I think because you feel like you're closer, you know, and see the opportunity, so it's... it's hard."
"I will say this: it's been strange to me--and this is just a personal thing--in the first couple of days, I actually had more of a sense of accomplishment at the end of last year than I do now. Maybe that'll change in the days to come, we obviously had some real big wins, but I just think when you... as you get closer, you look at it more, and the opportunity that what you think you could have had, and it probably hurts a little bit more."
Later, Stan was asked if he thought feeling worse about this season was "wrong." His response:
"No, I don't think it's wrong. I think it's a natural outgrowth of getting closer. I think that's one of the things that goes with it. And so, in some ways, even though the feeling... even though the gut feeling may be worse... I think that it's a good thing. Because I think to feel the sting of losing in the Finals, which hurts a great deal as a coach, you have to get there. So, you know, it's a good thing that we got there."
He touched upon this subject again much later in the discussion:
"I guess on an intellectual level I know that [the season] was [special] and what we accomplished... it doesn't... my gut feeling right now is still just the disappointment."
Van Gundy went on to say that his team's three series-clinching victories--Game 6 in Philadelphia without Howard's services, Game 7 in Boston against a team that's hard to beat on its home floor, and Game 6 versus Cleveland in convincing fashion to get into the Finals--will stand out "on the positive side," in his words, as great games for his team, and not just because they won.
"I think certainly [the season] has created excitement around our franchise. It has raised expectations of our franchise. It has raised the level of respect our franchise is viewed with. I don't think there's any question about that. I think people, you know, going into the season and even as the season progressed had a lot of doubts about our team and everything else, and I think now people look at us a lot differently than they did at the start of the season, and even a lot differently than they did at the start of the playoffs."
Hedo Turkoglu's free-agency, Turkoglu's role with the team, and who could potentially replace him:
"I have a good level of confidence [that a deal will be worked out to keep Turkoglu in Orlando], but again, those things are... you never know... and they're not within my control."
"There's no question that he was a key, key piece to the puzzle."
"I think people have to understand he's a guy that's gonna be 30 years old, and in this league he's probably looking at his last chance, at least on a big deal, to sign in the NBA. So this is sort of it for him. And it's a big deal. I think that's as it should be, and I think that clearly he's going to try to get as long a deal for as much money as he possibly can, and I don't know why anybody would expect anything differently."
When asked about the possibility of the team emphasizing their commitment to Turkoglu in helping him become a highly regarded player in the NBA during the negotiating process--what some people may call "the hometown discount"--Van Gundy was dismissive:
"Look, that stuff, in my experience, that stuff has nothing to do with anything. You can tell me I'm wrong, and maybe I am, but I don't know of a case where a guy has taken less money to play anywhere."
"To me, I always look at it this way: for those guys to be able to do that, they have to go and play pretty damn well for you. That guy's played pretty damn well for us for 2 years and been a huge part of our success. If he had played like he had played previously in his career, and if the organization had won at the level they had won previous to the last two years, then we wouldn't be talkin' about this.
"The fact is, they have to earn the chance to be able to go after these deals. I think that's the part that fans... that's the part at least to me in fairness that fans should look at a little bit. The guy has had to produce. He's had to be a key factor in getting the team to the NBA Finals to be in this organization. You can't look at it one-sided and say, 'What we've done for Hedo.' No, it's 'What he's done for us' to get us to that level.
"He's gonna go out and get the best deal he can. I wish him well. I hope it's here."
"The same thing went on with Grant [Hill] here, a little bit. You know, people saying, 'My God, the guy had all these years where he didn't play and was gettin' paid all this money, he should stay.' It just doesn't work that way."
"I've heard players always say, 'It's not all about the money,' but in the end, it is all about the money."
Moments later, someone asked what sort of player the Magic would look to acquire if they were not able to retain Turkoglu:
"That's not really in my domain, that's Otis', but clearly we need another guy on the perimeter who can create offense, both for himself and teammates."
Stan later addressed a purely hypothetical situation which will ring true for a lot of Magic fans:
"On an organization side, you may have a player that has done a lot for your organization, that you appreciate a great deal, and you either have to move him or not re-sign him. I mean, that's what's best for your business.
"And on a player's side, they can have great appreciation for what the organization has done for them and for what they've accomplished with that organization, but they're going to make a business decision based on what's best for them and their family, like any of us would with jobs."
He also opined about the competing roles loyalty and business smarts play in the free-agency process:
"The only thing [about free agency] that I ever get annoyed about is, players will move on and say, 'It's a business,' which I have no problem with, but at times there are guys when it's the other side and they don't get what they think they should get, then they will talk about the organization's lack of loyalty. That one bothers me. I mean, it's a business, they'll say it and I agree with it, and it's a business on both sides. If you want to make it about loyalty, then it's got to be about loyalty on both sides. If you want to make it about bein' a business then it's got to be a business on both sides. Just don't try to have it both ways, and I'm fine with what you do."
The possibility of trading Rafer Alston in order to make room for Jameer Nelson as a team leader:
"I don't think there's any question Jameer's a team leader. I don't think you have to trade anybody to do that. I mean, there's no... there's no controversy, there's no anything, with that. I mean, Jameer's our starting point guard and he's a huge part of what we did. He was out for a long time, but we all remember how he was playin', and it's not necessary to do anything.
"I think what is necessary with Jameer's injury, and his injury history [...] is that we have to have as high a level a backup as we possibly have to him."
The reporter who asked the initial question then followed-up with, "And is that Rafer?" Van Gundy's response:
"Well, it certainly could be. Rafer's a guy who's had tremendous success in this league and he's under contract for another year. We feel like, you know, we really,with that move [acquiring Alston at the February trade deadline], solidified that position."
The possibility of signing a contract extension to remain the coach of the Magic:
"We haven't talked about that. To be honest, I'm not concerned about that. My situation is different than what players go through. I mean, you know, I make plenty of money. That's not been an issue. And when I came here, my negotiations with Otis lasted all of about 2 minutes and anything we do from here in the future will not last much longer than that."
The construction and personnel of the Magic:
"Ideally, what you try to do is you'd like to have every possible base covered for every possible matchup you can run into. That's virtually impossible. Certain teams are going to match up with other teams better. I think that our roster was perfectly suited to beat Cleveland. Perfectly suited. If we did not play with 4 perimeter players against them, I think we would have had a very, very difficult time beating them. And then against other teams maybe it's not as big an advantage, or no advantage at all [....]
"Ideally you'd cover all of those bases. I don't think that that's possible. You're gonna put together the best team you can, to cover as many situations as you can. I think that Otis did that, and I don't think that he probably could have put together a roster better suited to give us a chance than what we had this year, and I don't think that there's another style of play out there for that roster that would have taken us any further [....] You're always lookin' to improve in the offseason, but I think it was about as good as it could have been."
The national media's perception of his team:
"I don't think there was any question that the overriding theme in the Boston series was Kevin Garnett not bein' there. You guys can judge that, I don't think I'm makin' that up. I think that was the overriding thing.
"In the Cleveland series, it certainly was all about LeBron [James]. It was... and the Cleveland situation sort of amazes me because now it's just become accepted fact, I mean, even between Games 3 and 5 [of the Finals] the other day, when the rumors about Cleveland and Shaq started, the story was all, 'Clearly, Cleveland's not a contender with the roster they have now. Clearly.' That was obvious to everybody. And yet, two weeks before that, they were clearly championship contenders with that same roster, and a great team, 66 wins, they were great. And then after we beat them, [the media said,] 'Well, they're just clearly not contenders. They don't have the roster that can do it.' [....] it becomes laughable.
"But that story, that series was all about LeBron."
"I don't think we were necessarily denigrated by the national media. I just think it was, you know, the other teams were thought of more highly than we were [....] I don't recall reading or seeing anything where we were put down or disrespected. I just think the other people were bigger stories, bigger themes."
His vacation plans:
"I was hopin' to have 4 or 5 more days of work, so no, I'm not really [ready for vacation]. It's been a long year, and I tried to get some rest, but... I'm not as ready as I would have been if we had played the Finals series a little bit better, I think I could have enjoyed it a little bit more, and gotten into it. But I'll certainly get an opportunity to rest."
"I'll just spend time with my family and watch as much baseball as I possibly can."
What Dwight Howard needs to work on this summer:
"Clearly he needs to spend some time... you know, his free throw shooting has got to improve. It's just continued work on his offensive moves, and hopefully, you know, getting to where he feels comfortable with a turnaround jump shot/countermove type thing in the post when he can't get to the middle and get to the rim."
How the national media view Howard:
"He's just not treated like the other stars in the league. I mean, as soon as Boston lost to us, it wasn't about, 'Paul Pierce and Ray Allen not gettin' it done,' it was about, 'Kevin Garnett was hurt.' As soon as LeBron James and the Cavaliers lost to us, it was about, 'LeBron doesn't have enough around him.' And as soon as we lose, it's, 'Dwight's game's not good enough.'
"Why it's that way, why people accentuate the negative more than the positive on him, I don't know."
Stan then rallied off a list of Howard's career accomplishments, noting several times that Howard is only 23 years old.
He said that Dwight's position--a big man in a league dominated by flashy wing players like James, Kobe Bryant, and Dwyane Wade--"possibly" could negatively affect the media's perception of him:
"It's not been that way with Tim Duncan when he didn't win. It's... I don't know what it is [....]
"You would think, listenin' to some of those [media] guys, that he's, like, the reason we didn't win the championship, rather than he is a huge reason that we were there to begin with. That, to me, is what's missin' with the coverage on Dwight. It focuses on the negative, and to me is not even a fair reflection of what he's done and what he's accomplished and how he plays this game."
Mickael Pietrus' role:
"MP is unquestionably a major player for us and a key guy. Whether we start him or bring him off the bench will depend on a variety of factors, but he was certainly, if you look at the playoffs, in most games he was the guy finishing the game." I look at him always as a starter, whether he was starting the game or not, he was certainly one of the guys we looked at."
"One of the things... he was really the only other guy that we used at the 3-spot and I thought even when he was starting one of the problems we ran into early in the year is, if he got into foul trouble early, then that messed up our rotation with getting Hedo some rest. So one of the things with having him come off the bench is you're gonna be able to stay with the rotation that gave Hedo his rest when you wanted to give it to him, because MP wouldn't be in foul trouble.
"Now if your roster's different and you have another guy who can back-up the 3-spot, that changes something also."
His relationship with Otis Smith:
"Otis and I have great communication all year long. I think the way it works is, when it's what happens out on the court during the year, he and I talk about that, but that's all gonna be my decision. And in the free-agency period and things like that, he and I are gonna talk every day and then it's gonna all be his decision [....]
"I'm never left out of [the decision-making process], he always gives me input, and I've been very happy with what he's done. So that's his job, and he's done a great, great job of it. So there would be no reason for me to want anything other than him making the decision."
For more from Magic media day, check out Eddy's news post from yesterday, as well as this post from Tim Povtak at NBA FanHouse, in which he gets Stan's thoughts about Shaq potentially joining the Cavs.