From NBA.com staff reports
Practically from the start of the public unraveling of the Dwight Howard era in Orlando, Stan Van Gundy didn’t pull many punches about his view on the deterioration between the Magic’s former All-Star big man and the powers that be (including himself). Perhaps no interview summed up Van Gundy’s honest view on the situation than his awkward-yet-telling pre-practice interview in April where he revealed that reports of Howard wanting him fired were true (which were then followed by Howard awkwardly sidling up to and being chummy with Van Gundy … and then having to deny Van Gundy’s statements to the media).
Van Gundy was fired shortly after the Magic’s first-round playoff ouster to the Pacers (as was former GM Otis Smith) as the team began what would become Phase I of its lengthy rebuilding plan. All that aside, it’s not entirely surprising that Van Gundy didn’t hold back when talking to 790 The Ticket in Miami with Jonathan Zaslow and Hoch about the end of the Howard era, the opt-in saga with Dwight and more:
How do you feel about the fallout from everything that has happened in Orlando? Are you frustrated? Relieved?
“Well I’d like to have a job. That’d be nice. That’s not a great feeling. We just got caught up in a bad situation and our organization didn’t handle it very well. Because of that I would say we probably deserve a lot of what happened as an organization and certainly not the other players. I thought those guys…I felt badly for them, a group that worked hard and was very professional all year long and didn’t deserve everything that happened, but from our organization especially the people at the very top it just wasn’t handled very well, so you get what you deserve.”
Did you go home and say I can’t believe how bizarre this is being played out with Dwight Howard?
“No. Not really. Look there’s always something going on in the NBA. I think when you are in the season you are just sort of dealing with things day-to-day and the next practice and the next game and everything else, so no there is always issues. That was our issue this year and we dealt with it. Quite honestly we were dealing with it very well with everything that was going on until Dwight Howard went out and obviously we lost our best player. We were playing very well. We had the 3rd best record in the East and the 5th best record in the league and we’re playing well. Then when he [Dwight Howard] went down quite honestly we struggled. He was sort of our guy and we didn’t play as well after that, but I thought we were still pretty competitive in everything else. It wasn’t as bad inside our team and inside the locker room as it was out in the media.”
As for Dwight choosing to opt-in and forgo free agency this summer — which, coincidentally, brought about even more speculation (of the trade variety) until his eventual deal to the Lakers was consummated last week in a four-team swap?
Can you give us any clarity on why Dwight Howard demanded to be traded and then said he would stay and then after the season concluded he wanted to be traded again?
“Well, I think it confuses everyone. It confuses all of us. I was a little bit surprised at the time. Look I think Dwight Howard is a guy, who likes his teammates, enjoys the camaraderie of the locker room and he’s gotta realize you are in season making that decision and the guys you are with every single day are your teammates. It’s also…the timing of it is we were also out on the road at that time and just played San Antonio, so it’s not like he’s going home after practice or something else. He is with his teammates all day and sort of got wrapped up in that and just decided hey I want to…I might as well just finish this season in Orlando and he opted in, but at the same time I don’t think his desire to leave at some point ever left him, so it was more I think to finish the year in Orlando.”
Rebuilding mode is fully engaged in Orlando, as only three players (J.J. Redick, Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu) remain from the 2009 Finals team and a new coach (Jacque Vaughn) and GM (Rob Hennigan) are in place to steer the ship. Few will argue that the Howard-Van Gundy-era Magic could have ended worse, but getting Van Gundy’s insight on the situation provides a little more clarity on why things wrapped up how they did.