Dwight Howard's relationship with Orlando Magic management had… (Kevork Djansezian / Getty…)
In what amounted to one of the most awkward interviews in sports, Stan Van Gundy appeared before a large gathering of reporters in April and confirmed reports that Dwight Howard asked the Orlando Magic front office to fire him as coach.
Moments later, Howard stepped into the fray, believing Van Gundy had downplayed the reports. Instead, Van Gundy left Howard twisting in the wind.
The Magic fired Van Gundy once the season ended. Yet the Magic's front office has publicly maintained Howard never made such a request. In an ESPN appearance, Van Gundy also didn't fault Howard for wanting to leave the Magic, leading to his trade to the Lakers.
"There was a lot more than what happened between Dwight and I," Van Gundy said. "As far as between Dwight and I, in my opinion, it was a relationship that worked very, very well. It didn't mean he always liked it. I don't really put any blame on Dwight on what happened at all in terms of my situation. What he did was pretty normal stuff for NBA players. He voiced an opinion to management. There were a few things I obviously would've liked done differently. Mainly my contention was with what happened with management and ownership. That's what made the situation into what it became. Had it been handled better on that end, it would've never gotten to the point that they did."
Van Gundy didn't elaborate on what could have been done differently, but the list is long. For one, the Magic didn't put enough of a supporting cast around Howard to make him happy. It had lots of long-term contracts in Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson that needlessly ate up cap space. Magic CEO Bob Vander Weide, who resigned before the beginning of last season, reportedly called Howard late one night in a plea to stay after drinking a few glasses of wine. And, of course, Van Gundy's outing of Howard hardly helped him have trust in the organization.
Howard had his own faults too, waffling on whether he wanted to stay with Orlando or not. He held a press conference in March after waiving his early termination option, declaring his desire to play with the Magic. He then made it clear his wanted to play for the Brooklyn Nets. Once they lost patience and filled up their roster, Howard swung toward the Lakers.
Regardless, Van Gundy believes Howard is "perfect" for the Lakers, citing his defensive presence as well as his ability to run and defend the pick-and-roll.
"Whatever you want to do in terms of schemes, rotations and adjustments, he's going to pick them up pretty quickly," Van Gundy said. "He's going to make the game a lot easier for his teammates defensively. He's going to cover up a lot for other guys and make their jobs a lot easier. So when you have a guy like Steve Nash who is a great offensive player and below-average defender, Dwight will make him a lot better."
Still, Van Gundy sees one slight challenge ahead, and it has nothing to do with fitting in with a star-studded lineup with Kobe Bryant, Nash and Pau Gasol. It has everything to do with how Howard will handle the Hollywood spotlight and adopt a championship mentality.
"He's a guy you need to continue to push and give goals to, very high goals," Van Gundy said. "At times, the game can be so easy for him and he needs to continue to be challenged. You have to stay on him to be serious."
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