HANG TIME PLAYOFF HEADQUARTERS — We can see it now: Peaches and Herb’s “Reunited” blaring from the sound system and a suited and booted Shaquille O’Neal walking to the podium as he’s introduced as the Orlando Magic’s new general manager.
Don’t laugh. It might not be as far-fetched as it sounds.
An ESPN report that TNT’s O’Neal will speak with the Magic about the opening next week has NOT been confirmed by either side. But it hasn’t been scuttled by either side either … not yet, at least. O’Neal’s Inside colleague Charles Barkley confirmed Shaq’s interest it this morning on The Dan Patrick Show:
Dan asked Barkley if Shaquille O’Neal has told him he’s is interested in the Orlando GM job. “Yes,” Barkley said. “I do know he’s interested in the job and he’s going to interview for it.”
Barkley said O’Neal and Dwight Howard have had issues in the past, but that doesn’t mean Shaq can’t go to Orlando.
Barkley thinks Howard needs to make a decision and stay or go in Orlando. He’s sick of talking about it.
“They’re trying to do anything they can to keep Dwight there and get a buzz,” Barkley said. “They have to do something whether Dwight stays there or not. Bringing in Shaquille is an attention getter.”
This gives folks a license to let their imaginations run wild with images of O’Neal back in the city where his Hall of Fame playing career began, the same city he calls home. If Shaq is on the short list of people the Magic want to talk to about replacing Otis Smith, it is noteworthy. Especially considering the nature of his departure from the Magic in 1996 for the Los Angeles Lakers.
O’Neal hasn’t even finished his first year of retirement and already his name is popping up in a GM search. That’s impressive, no matter how it all transpired.
We first heard of this Monday night, when the Magic announced their mutual parting of the ways with Smith and the firing of Stan Van Gundy, never an O’Neal favorite during his playing days in Miami.
That mutual disdain for Van Gundy would certainly be a talking point for Shaq the GM (we’re going to start referring to him as the Big Executive now) and Howard, who co-opted Shaq’s Superman moniker a few years back. O’Neal has been pointed in his criticisms of Howard in the past, so that sit-down discussion, if it ever happened, would be a made-for-TV event.
To his credit, O’Neal has been adamant all along about Howard needing to stay in Orlando and fight off the rumors about Howard wanting to make his own escape this summer.
“I just don’t know why he would want to leave Orlando to go to New Jersey or anywhere else,” Shaq said in March. “He’s got the nicest arena in the country, the DeVos family do a great job and the organization is first-class.”
That’s not hollow praise from O’Neal, who has always maintained his love for Orlando, the Magic and the DeVos family. And from what we’ve been told this isn’t just a publicity stunt. Shaq is serious about transitioning into the front office some day, according to a couple of sources close to the situation. The Magic opening just happened to drop at just the right time.
Still, the notion of an inexperienced Shaq taking over the Magic’s basketball operation is worrisome to many people. There are technically two openings in Orlando, since Smith worked as both the Magic’s president of basketball operations and general manager. Pairing O’Neal, 40, with an experienced executive like Donnie Walsh or Jeff Bower could actually make sense, with the more seasoned executive working as the team president and O’Neal serving an on-the-job apprenticeship of sorts as the general manager.
Names like Brian Shaw, Mike D’Atnoni and Jerry Sloan and even Doc Rivers (Danny Ainge and Celtics fans have to be cracking up about this one since Rivers is still in the first year of his new, five-year deal with the Celtics) have popped on the list of potential replacements for Van Gundy. Shaq has connections to all of them, which makes this whole drama even richer.
Drama is all it is, until someone confirms this report of a meeting next week between O’Neal and the Magic brass. But you have to admit, the idea of O’Neal returning to the Magic in any capacity, let alone as the future constructor of the franchise, is an intriguing one.