Awhile back, I wrote about how the Magic had become like kryptonite to Superman. I said that they needed to trade him, get what value they could for him and that the reason why Orlando was struggling was actually because of Dwight Howard. Even then, when the Magic were still the third seed in the East, Howard’s off-the-court drama looked like it was eventually going to become a problem and derail a successful team from its winning ways. Now it’s developed into a full-blown soap opera with Stan Van Gundy saying that his sources are telling him Howard wants him fired as head coach at the end of the season.
Now whether or not this claim is true still isn’t clear. Howard had no idea what Van Gundy was saying when he put his arm around him in that interview and was taken aback once the reporters had filled him in on what his coach had just said. Was he surprised that his secret had got out, or was he genuinely affronted by the rumor? Whatever the case, Van Gundy seems pretty confident in whatever sources he’s talking about within management. After Howard’s flip flopping multiple times on whether or not he would stay with the Magic for another year, a lot of rumors floated around about what management promised D12 in order to convince him to stay. Some stories said that he would have the power to decide the fate of Van Gundy and GM Otis Smith at the end of the season. Others said that Howard simply looked at Twitter once he said he was opting out of his contract and all the criticism he saw bothered him to the point that he changed his mind. Whatever the case, Superman’s superhuman wishy-washy mentality over the past three months doesn’t inspire much confidence if you’re an Orlando Magic fan.
Now I don’t want to fully condemn Howard if it’s untrue that he wants Van Gundy gone and actually has the power to do so. It would be wrong to jump the gun if he is sincere about just focusing on winning a championship and I do think he feels bad about the message he’s sent his fanbase over the past few months. But all signs are pointing to Howard being guilty at this point. He’s denied any involvement in management up to this point, saying that he’s just a player and that Van Gundy’s fate is up to management at the end of the season…but I don’t know if I can be naive enough to think that Van Gundy is making this stuff up. There must have been some compelling reason for Howard to change his mind and stay in Orlando after months of everyone fully expecting him to be traded to New Jersey or LA. So while Dwight Howard may have love for the city of Orlando, it wouldn’t surprise me if after this freak circus show that’s been going on for the past few months, he’s planning on using his influence to oust Van Gundy.
If Dwight Howard is orchestrating these managerial moves, then shame on him. But even if he isn’t and his denials prove to be true, he still should be ashamed of all that he’s put the city through, all he’s put the fanbase through and all he’s put his teammates through. The issue here is not that a player is trying to oust a coach. People forget that Shaq ousted two coaches (Van Gundy and Kurt Rambis) and even the lovable Magic Johnson got rid of Paul Westhead. But the key was that these players orchestrated the move with a better coach in mind; Johnson’s complaining paved the way for Pat Riley while Shaq brought in Riley and Phil Jackson. Is Howard planning this move with a better coach in mind? Probably not. Is there even a coach better for D12 than Van Gundy, who helped shape him from day one into the defensive juggernaut he’s become? Most likely, no. So in this case, a player asking for or orchestrating a coaching change is unacceptable, but the real problem is that when you consider all that he’s put the city of Orlando through in the past few months, it’s downright despicable.
So why are people just now hammering Howard for these past months of indecision that will clearly taint his reputation and legacy for years to come? The answer is that even though Howard has continued to wound his fanbase and teammates, he’s brought his A-game to the court every night, putting up superhuman numbers and leaving no doubt that his hunger for a championship is greater than all the off-the-court drama. Until now, that is. Because when a player realizes that his coach knows/thinks he’s being ousted, it’s hard to play through that kind of adversity and public criticism. Which is why Dwight Howard threw up an 8-point, 8-rebound performance against the Knicks last night. Hell, Big Baby Glen Davis had a bigger game than Superman last night in the Magic’s fifth loss in a row, which is the first time Orlando has had a losing streak of that size since 2007. Tyson Chandler has played extremely well against Howard this season, but that kind of absent-minded performance is unacceptable and was a big testament to the problems within the Orlando Magic organization at the moment.
I predicted the Magic would implode, but I had no idea things would become so convoluted and melodramatic, especially this close to the postseason. During this losing streak, Orlando has slipped to the sixth seed in the East, meaning Howard’s problems are about to be a hell of a lot bigger than Stan Van Gundy. The recipe for destruction was always there: an unhappy superstar trying to uphold his image as a loyal franchise guy to a city that feels betrayed because he’s working on improving his own situation behind closed doors; a great coach who doesn’t put up with any BS and is getting sick of the games; a lackluster supporting cast that can’t appease their star’s desire for a championship; management that is giving their bratty superstar too much say in operations; it’s really all there in Orlando. But unlike before when the Magic were winning despite all of Dwight Howard’s BS, things are changing. The soap opera off-the-court has become the main show in Orlando. And whereas before Orlando should have traded Dwight Howard because the Magic were his kryptonite, the situation has reversed: Superman should leave because he has become the kryptonite to his city, his team…and even himself.