The Orlando Magic have fired Stan Van Gundy and have agreed to part ways with president of basketball operations Otis Smith.
For the first time in five years, the Magic will be without direction at general manager and at head coach, ending a tumultuous year for both. Ultimately, it appears, the team’s struggles the last two years and the uncertainty it has caused surrounding franchise center Dwight Howard became too much for the two to keep their jobs.
Stan Van Gundy will go down as the most successful coach in the Magic’s history, having guided the team to four 50-win seasons, two conference finals appearances and one amazing trip to the NBA Finals in 2009.
Otis Smith was a big part of that effort, too. He brought in Van Gundy to be the team’s head coach in 2007 and helped build two of the best teams in Magic history in 2009 and 2010.
It is hard to argue against their contributions for the last five years in helping the Magic ascend to relevancy in the NBA.
“On behalf of the DeVos Family, we sincerely appreciate and thank Otis and Stan for all that they have done on and off the floor for the Orlando Magic,” Magic CEO Alex Martins said in a press release. “These are the days you dread in this business, but we feel it’s time for new leadership and new voices.
“They both brought die-hard dedication and an unmatched work ethic on a daily basis,” added Martins. “Their success is well documented, as the Orlando Magic has had the fourth best record in the NBA over the last five years, and entering the playoffs this year the third most playoff wins over that period of time. The disappointment of getting eliminated in the first round of the playoffs these past two seasons played a primary role in our decision, as we feel our momentum towards winning a championship has paused. We wish Otis and Stan all the best and we look forward to taking the next step towards winning that championship.”
Indeed, things seemed to be looking very up for the Magic after two straight years in the Eastern Conference Finals ending in 2010. The Magic opted not to make major tweaks to the roster that summer. But then things started to go wrong.
For whatever reason, Orlando decided to break up its 2010 team in December 2010 and shipped out Marcin Gortat, Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis for Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu in Gilbert Arenas. If there was a moment you could point to and say that the wheels fell off the Magic bandwagon, this was it.
Van Gundy struggled to get the unit to mesh together and play consistently after the honeymoon phase of the trade wore off. Orlando was sent home by Atlanta in the first round and looked completely lost.
Worse still, the future of Dwight Howard hung in the balance.
The 2012 season was wacky because of all that uncertainty regarding Howard. It got wackier as reports came out of a rift between the star center and Otis Smith. It got wackier still when Van Gundy admitted that he had been told by someone within the franchise that Howard had asked that he be fired.
Whether this is true or not, and sources suggest that it was, that moment seemed to be the point of no return for Van Gundy. With management — higher than Smith, at least — wanting to keep Howard at all costs, this betrayal was probably the final straw.
When the Magic failed to advance out of the first round for the second straight year, it was a further indictment of the team Smith put together and how Van Gundy was using them.
It was clearly time to move in another direction.
Van Gundy posted a 259-135 record as the Magic’s head coach on top of all the playoff success. He got the best out of his teams and out of Dwight Howard. He did everything asked of him and his team found a lot of success.
Smith, too, had a great run as the team’s general manager. Since being named general manager six years ago, Orlando has not missed the playoffs. He was part of the team that drafted Howard and Jameer Nelson. He selected J.J. Redick and came out of an uncertain summer in 2009 with a championship-caliber team.
Ultimately for Smith, the tinkering was probably too much and it left the Magic too hamstrung to make any significant improvements as age crept up on the roster.
With step one of the summer makeover completed, the next question becomes who replaces Van Gundy and Smith. And the ultimate question, now that these two are gone, is will that be enough to get Dwight Howard to stay.