In the last week, two of the Orlando Magic's free-agency targets have gone out of their way to praise Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy. And this is not something I think we should ignore.
When Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel reached Matt Barnes, the newest Magic player, by telephone last night, Barnes explained his motivation for choosing Orlando thusly:
It really came down to Dallas, Cleveland and Orlando, and each of them are good teams. But I just felt overall that Orlando would be the best fit for me with the style they play and the way [Coach Stan] Van Gundy turned the franchise around."
"...and the way Stan Van Gundy turned the franchise around." This is not faint praise. This is respect for a coach who took over a 40-42 team, then guided it to a 111-53 record over the next two seasons, capping the second one off with an NBA Finals appearance.
Earlier this week, in an interview with RealGM's Alex Kennedy, point guard C.J. Watson had this to say, among other things:
"I want to play with Orlando. With the four All-Stars and Stan [Van Gundy]."
Again, Watson could have ended that comment with the word "All-Stars," but he didn't. He mentioned Van Gundy as part of Orlando's appeal. The opportunity to play under Van Gundy is, to Watson, nearly as enticing as the opportunity to play with Vince Carter, Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson.
Are you hearing this? Are you believing this? Van Gundy, the man whom some Magic fans wanted fired after his team blew a 14-point, 4th-quarter lead to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, is now almost a big a draw for free-agents as Dwight freakin' Howard is.
That, really, is my underlying point. No numbers-crunching, no real analysis. Just pointing out that the presence of an elite head coach is another factor working in Orlando's favor when it comes to landing free agents. Not big-shots, no, as Barnes is a career role-player, and Watson--against his wishes, it appears--will either have to stay with Golden State or look for a new home outside Orlando, as the Magic are out of money. But these sorts of mid-rotation players, the ones who really buy-in to a coach's system and play hard, they could make a tremendous difference in the postseason.
Stan Van Gundy is coaching the Magic to victory on the court, and attracting solid players to them off it. Who could have guessed?