How Much Will Orlando Clean House?

The rebuilding has begun. Orlando is heading in a new direction. What that direction will be is hard to say. But the one thing that is clear is that the Magic are done with Stan Van Gundy and Otis Smith and everything they built the last five years.

There are a lot of retrospectives.

Many applauding the job that Van Gundy did and lamenting the circumstances that led to his firing (ultimately agreeing that it was time one way or another with how stale the Magic had gotten the last two years).

There are many also giving rightful criticism toward Otis Smith. After all, things were going swimmingly until his tinkering became too ruinous for chemistry and he depleted his assets and the team’s talent level. A more full evaluation of Van Gundy and Smith’s tenure will be coming in the following days.

The more pressing and immediate concern is the Magic’s future. That is where the focus has honestly been since the beginning of the season and Dwight Howard announced his trade request. Even though he eventually waived his early termination option the feeling is that he has never really officially moved off his demand. He just believed in the team he was on or something.

In any case, Van Gundy and Smith’s firing have only spurred on rumors for what is next for the Magic. At this point, all anything is are just rumors. We have hit the point of the season where everything is based on a whisper and an agenda. There is nothing concrete, no matter how much everyone from management to the fan base wants some finality entering next season.

And, again, it all revolves around Dwight Howard.

The way the rumor mill is swirling, it is sounding like the Magic are preparing to completely clear the deck — coach, general manager and star player.

That seems to be what many people think. Ken Berger of CBS Sports reports that the firing of Van Gundy and Smith does not necessarily mean that Howard is staying, much like retaining one or both of them would have meant that Howard was gone.

There were rumors circulating throughout the season that there was something of a rift between Van Gundy, Smith and management. The rumor was that Van Gundy and Smith were ready to move on from Howard and expected him traded by the deadline. In fact, there were some who believed that Smith was ready to pull the trigger on a deal that would have sent Howard to the Nets at one point. Obviously Alex Martins and Magic management had the final say and they elected to keep Howard at, seemingly, all costs.

I am sure Van Gundy airing the Magic’s inner workings and dirty laundry virtually unprompted did not endear him to his bosses. And I am sure the bosses did not appreciate having their strategy disputed with their top basketball man. Otis Smith may actually have been doing his job right in trying to get the best deal for Howard in March or sooner. Who knows?

Now, it appears (if you believe certain reports) that Howard is still unsure of his future in Orlando.

Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com reports Howard still wants out of Orlando. What is more, a source told Chris Bernucca of SheridanHoops.com that Howard wants out of Orlando “more than ever.” (h/t Evan Dunlap of Orlando Pinstriped Post)

Of course, Howard has yet to say anything more than the short comment-and-response interview he gave Ric Bucher of ESPN the Magazine. So, again, everything is just a rumor.

The franchise has thrown itself into another round of silly season where rumors and whispers rule the day. Only Alex Martins and the people in power really know what is going on at this point. And so the decision lies squarely with them.

The first task, as Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel pointed out, is to find a new general manager to spearhead the NBA Draft preparations and hire a new coach. The first task of the new general manager is to get a feel for what Dwight Howard wants and try to build a relationship that will hopefully keep him in a Magic uniform.

This might be why the Magic are looking for someone with championship experience and someone who has been around the NBA. The hope, it seems, is to instill confidence that the franchise is moving in the right direction.

No matter what is reported, Orlando has committed itself to keeping Howard in uniform. That was the long-stated goal and it was supported by the franchise’s actions in talking to Howard and getting him to waive his early termination option. Even though the Magic appear unwilling to go through the will-he-won’t-he drama of the 2012 season again, the goal is still to have Howard in a Magic uniform for a long time. Clearing up the rumors stated above is job one for the new general manager.

The question then becomes in the hiring process which general manager that fits the Magic’s criteria would be willing to go through the rebuilding process if Dwight Howard elects to leave.

Donnie Walsh, a rumored candidate for the Magic’s open general manager job, just left a tumultuous relationship with New York. Does he want to enter a potentially similar situation and build from the ground up in Orlando?

And what about the head coach? The Magic want someone who will take the team to a championship. But many of the coaches with that championship experience are not the kinds of coaches that typically relate well to players — at least, not in the way that Dwight Howard seems to want. It would appear then, that a young coach like Brian Shaw who lacks experience could be on the way in.

That kind of a coach might be better suited to a rebuilding job then a “get us over the top” job. And what the Magic’s ultimate goals are depends, of course, on what Dwight Howard wants to do.

There is a lot on the plate for whomever the Magic decide to hire for sure. The future is quite clearly at stake with the decisions the franchise is preparing to make.

Big Baby Had A Big Impact In Orlando

The Magic did not make the splash many expected in the shortened offseason. Orlando had some work to do to appease Dwight Howard, so the thought would go, this summer and there hardly seemed to be a splashy move in sight.

The biggest offseason acquisition was a sign and trade of power forwards. Orlando sent Brandon Bass to Boston for Glen Davis. Davis got a four-year deal for $24 million. He was allegedly on the list of players Dwight Howard had requested the Magic to go after in trades and add to the team. This was the move for this team.

Fans were admittedly skeptical.

It was not just that Davis was “the enemy” for so long. One of the admittedly funny issues that had to be resolved when Davis came over was the reconciliation between Davis and the fan he bumped into during the 2009 Finals. That family still owns seats right near the Magic bench. That was a non-issue, of course, but it shows the emotion that had to be overcome when Davis officially donned Magic blue.

Those defending the deal only saw it as a step to the side, not a step forward. Bass was a much better shooter and seemed to pair up with Dwight Howard a lot better than Davis would. The differences defensively and with his leadership seemed negligible or intangible at that point.

Things got off to a poor start, too.

Davis averaged 7.3 points per game and 5.2 rebounds per game. More alarmingly, Davis was shooting 36.1 percent from the floor. His shot was noticeably flat and he was a liability offensively. Davis was not delivering on the Magic’s faith in him.

Davis admitted that he was trying a little too hard to match Bass’ production in Boston. Bass came right into the starting lineup for the Celtics and made an impact. Davis wanted to do the same. The only problem was he was playing behind Ryan Anderson, the league’s Most Improved Player and someone who proved to be a better fit for the offense.

“I know the beginning of the year was kind of rocky for me,” Davis said at exit interviews. “A lot of people didn’t know what was going on, how I was going. A lot of stuff happened that I had no control over. When I finally settled down and began to do the things that I love to do — and that is play the game of basketball at a high level — I feel like I did a pretty good job coming in and filling the void that was there with Dwight (Howard) leaving.”

It was a tough year for Davis and he said he was frustrated by his lack of playing time and his smaller role with the team. Things did not turn around until he accepted his role and began to do what he does best — play with energy and enthusiasm and provide a defensive rock in the paint.

This became even more evident when Dwight Howard went out.

Davis’ numbers remained virtually the same into February and March after his slow start. But his field goal percentage began to slowly creep up. With Howard out in April, Davis began to really flourish. He averaged 16.4 points per game and 8.8 rebounds per game. He shot 50.3 percent from the floor, a dramatic increase from his middling shooting from the beginning of the year.

With this responsibility, Davis flourished. He stepped up his game even more in the Playoffs with 19.0 points per game and 9.2 rebounds per game.

More than that though, Davis became an emotional leader for the team. It was Davis who coined the rallying cry, “We All We Got,” and energized his team with over-the-top efforts in the playoffs. Davis was key to all those crazed second quarter comebacks and you could see by the way Davis was struggling to get up and down the floor how much the effort meant to him and his teammates.

By the end, he had endeared himself to Magic fans. He had won them over. And the Magic would have tanked without him in the lineup for sure. No offense to Brandon Bass.

Davis said his goal this offseason is to build his conditioning so he can play 40 minutes per game. That is a big goal. And Davis said he intends on starting next year.

“That was one of the reasons I went through my funk because I thought I should be a starter,” Davis said. “When I finally got over that, I started playing better. Then at the same time, you pray and God delivered for me the opportunity to play big minutes and I showed the world what I can do.

“Yeah, I want to start. But at the end of the day, I can’t leave it for no chance. I’ve got to be the best player that I can be, so when it comes down to pick the starters, there can be no question. I don’t want no question, nothing in nobody’s mind to make them feel like I shouldn’t be starting. And that’s my approach to the whole summer.”

As Otis Smith described it, having two guys who want to and expect to start is a good problem to have. He certainly likes that Davis has the ambition to play the majority of the minutes next season.

Yes, Orlando still has three more season with Davis. There remains some trepidation about the length of that contract.

For the first year, Davis proved his worth. He won over the skeptical fans enough and became the team’s emotional leader. There were not many surprises in this forgettable season, but this one certainly qualified as a pleasant one.

Howard Still In Touch With Magic

The Magic are in a full holding pattern.

This week management will meet and begin making decisions and evaluations of everyone on the Magic staff and roster. Ultimately though, the Magic’s future lies in the decisions of one Dwight David Howard Jr.

This past season was all about Howard decision or indecision. It dominated headlines throughout the season and it is something that the Magic do not want to go through again. So at the end of the season as Orlando sorts through what is looking to be a mess of an offseason it all boils down to one decision once again:

Will Dwight Howard sign a long-term extension with the Magic? Does he want to be in Orlando for the short or long term?

It seems every decision the Magic are going to make this offseason will depend on that answer. Alex Martins has all but said that if Howard will not sign a long-term extension this offseason, the team will go forward with what is best for the team. That likely means getting what value the team can for Howard in a trade. And it seems that will get done before the season begins.

The one voice that has been uncharacteristically quiet though is Dwight Howard himself.

The public has not heard from Howard since TMZ cornered him coming out of rehab a little more than a week ago. There, Howard said he had been in contact with coach Stan Van Gundy and his teammates. Van Gundy confirmed that he had chatted with Howard via text before Game 2 but said at exit interviews that he had not spoken to him since.

Several players, including Jameer Nelson, said they had been in touch with Howard via the phone.

“He is bored to death because he can’t really do anything,” Stan Van Gundy said before Game 4 of his conversations with Howard. “He is sitting in a motel and doing his rehab. and the rehab is not like he is running three miles or anything. You are starting out slow. He is bored more than anything.”

Howard said in that interview with TMZ that he feels like he is in jail because he cannot go anywhere and could not be with his teammates. Howard grew visibly frustrated in the interview when the interviewer brought up the subject of whether he was faking any part of his injury. That is how the interview abruptly ends if you watch it again.

Fans I have talked to have been very critical of Howard’s absence from the team during the Playoffs and at the end of the season. It is tough to say exactly what Howard is thinking. I will not pretend to know — otherwise, reporting would be easy at this stage of the offseason.

Garnett’s Remarkable Resurgence

LL Cool J once said, “Don’t call it a come-back. I’ve been here for years, rocking my peers and putting sucka’s in fear.”

Well, the same could be said for Kevin Garnett, who has enjoyed a resurgence in the playoffs. 

This postseason, Garnett’s player efficiency rating has improved to 23.82, compared to last season’s 17.3.  In the first round series against the Atlanta Hawks, Garnett averaged 18.7 points, and 10.50 rebounds. These numbers are reminiscent of his days on the Minnesota Timberwolves, when he was affectionately known as The Big Ticket.

So far, Garnett has produced on par with his 2008 playoff campaign with Boston, which was above his career averages.

Since Doc Rivers shifted Garnett to center, he has played like he is 25, as opposed to the 35-year-old veteran with bad knees. As a center, he is posting up more in the post, rather than shooting jump shots on the perimeter.

Since the All-Star break, Garnett has failed to reach double digits in points scored in only two games. To put this into a broader view, in the first week of the season, Garnett had two games in which he failed to reach double digits in points.

Also worth noting, Garnett recorded thirteen double digit rebounding outings after the break and he pulled down eight or nine boards in nine other games.

The defense that Garnett provided on the opposing team’s center proved to be just as much of a nightmare as it was for the opposing team’s center trying to cover Garnett and his mid-range jumper.

One downside to Garnett playing center on a consistent basis is injuries; in particular his history of knee injuries. He has the length but not the girth to defend the likes of Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum, day in and day out. The continuous banging in the paint would take a toll on him and that would make him less effective in every aspect of his game. Furthermore, it would wear him down a lot faster. For example, former Celtic center, Kendrick Perkins suffered numerous shoulder injuries due to the constant battles in the paint. His shoulder was a problem by the end of the year, almost every season, due to the pounding of being backed into the post or from backing into the post. Garnett, with his small frame, would be back on the injury report sooner than expected.

The consensus around the NBA from writers and fans is that it is a two-horse race, between the Orlando Magic’s Dwight Howard and the Los Angeles Lakers’ Andrew Bynum, for the best center in the NBA. Statistically, Howard has a strong case. But anyone who knows anything about basketball knows that the stats sheet does not tell the whole story of Dwight Howard. In his eighth season in the NBA, Howard has yet to develop a true offensive post game and simply does not hit free throws; making him nearly impossible to go to late in games. He has, to this point, unsuccessfully run two campaigns: one for being traded out of Orlando, and another to have head coach, Stan Van Gundy fired.

Garnett’s defense is undeniable, but the health concerns he faced this season, the drama off the court, and his inability to close out games makes him a more viable option at the center position. Garnett just capped off his sixth consecutive season shooting over 80% from the line, has a well-established offensive game on the block or from the elbow, and has a certain fire that Howard does not seem to possess.

Most importantly, Garnett’s team feeds off of his fire while it looked like Howard’s team was feeding off of his childish antics at times. The advantage goes to Kevin Garnett today. It was like a switch was turned on and the Kevin Garnett of old came back for one last run as the big men went down one by one for the Boston Celtics. Only this time, Garnett is doing it in a different role but with the same mindset.

It’s time for the certifiably insane, chest-pounding, lockdown-defending, 6’11” big man to get the love he deserves; this time, as the best center in the NBA.

A Meeting Of The Minds In Orlando

The Magic’s season is not a week over, and uncertainty regins at Amway Center an in the Magic offices. Really, uncertainty has reigned in the Orlando Magic front office since early December when Dwight Howard formally requested a trade and perhaps even before that when the franchise had no idea what Howard wanted or his position on his future with the team.

With the team facing and dealing with a second straight first round exit, the Magic have questions to answer as they try to figure out what lies in their future.

Alex Martins said earlier this week at the team’s exit interviews that the team will take some time to decompress before beginning postseason evaluations. He would not put a time table on when that process would begin or would result in a decision to retain or release the team’s head coach and the team’s general manager.

I have learned that this process is expected to begin this week when Magic ownership meets to evaluate the season. My source told me that the feeling is this meeting may result in a final decision concerning Stan Van Gundy’s future with the team by the end of the week.

There is no guarantee that there will be action coming out of these initial meetings between Magic CEO Alex Martins, Magic chairman Dan DeVos, owner Rich DeVos and the others involved in this meeting of the Magic’s ownership and management group. But the postseason evaluations have begun in earnest. And certainly the Magic would like to have some things resolved with the coach and general manager before the team enters full NBA Draft preparations ahead of the June 28 NBA Draft.

“We’re going to start a full evaluation process of our entire organization. That’s what we do at the end of each season,” Martins said at the Magic’s exit interviews last week. “We base everything that we do on trying to win a championship. So we’re going to do that this offseason like we do every offseason. Everything will be evaluated so that we get to next season and we will be in a better position than we are today to have won a title.

“Everything we have done over the years is about getting to win a championship. Unfortunately getting to the Playoffs is just not good enough. We have to find a way to get back to the Eastern Conference Finals and back to the Finals and have an opportunity to win a championship. Everything has to be evaluated.”

Nobody was very happy with how the Magic ended this season. As I noted earlier, Martins, Otis Smith and Stan Van Gundy were sure to mention that the team was 32-18 at the 50-game mark and looking to take the third seed in the Eastern Conference before Dwight Howard was lost for much of the end of the season with a back injury. Nobody faulted the team’s effort on the floor in the Playoffs, but there was certainly a sense that the team is going backward.

Throw in the constant drama surrounding Dwight Howard and his request to management to fire Stan Van Gundy and it is not hard to sense the uneasiness around the franchise.

“At some point in the future, hopefully the near future, they’re going to decide one way or another and you go with it,” Stan Van Gundy said at exit interviews last week. “It doesn’t weigh on me. There’s only two things that can happen. There’s not a menu of options here. You fire me or you don’t fire me.”

Van Gundy said then that he has “several meetings planned” including some time sitting on his back porch, spending time with his family (for real this time, not the Miami “spend time with his family”) and visiting friend and Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez when the Braves play the Tampa Bay Rays next weekend. It was a trying season for everyone in the franchise and regardless of his future with the team, Van Gundy deserves some much-needed rest and relaxation.

But certainly by sticking with Howard through the trade request and past the trade deadline and convincing Howard to waive his opt-out clause, the Magic seem to have put themselves in the “keep Dwight at all costs” camp.

If that means that the Magic will look for a new coaching staff both Van Gundy and Martins hopes that decision comes sooner rather than later. Martins said he does not want to leave anyone on the coaching staff “in limbo” and they hope to have a final decision made in time for the assistant coaches the team chooses not to retain to go out and find other coaching positions.

Van Gundy said he would be fine with management taking the time necessary to make a decision. In the end, he is the employee.

Orlando wants to move forward and begin aligning the pieces to build back up for a championship run in 2013. That is the unequivocal goal for the franchise at the moment. This week’s meeting will be the first step in solving that puzzle.

This is a team. This is an organization that focuses itself on a team and everybody working together,” Martins said. “When you talk about team, that takes a lot of different pieces. Dwight is just one piece of the big puzzle. Stan is a piece. Otis is a piece. Our ownership is a piece. Every single other person on that roster is a piece.

“It takes a lot to win a championship. Less than half this teams in the league have won a championship in the history of this league. Obviously it is not easy to do. We’re going to look at every single piece and make sure we put the right pieces together to have that chance next season.”