Dwight Howard's Show? 5 Potential Replacements for Stan Van Gundy in Orlando
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The absolute mockery that has become the Dwight Howard saga the past two months took a wicked turn this week, with coach Stan Van Gundy proclaiming he had inside knowledge that star center Dwight Howard asked to have his coach fired.
If this is true and Dwight indeed has this type of sway, it borders on the insane. The Magic wanted to keep Dwight, that much we all knew. But to actually give him the power to fire his head coach?
We should establish as a baseline fact that Coach Stan is regarded by most NBA pundits as a top five coach in the league. Sure, he has his drawbacks: a fiery temper, extreme negativism, etc. But the guy clearly knows X's and O's.
We should also point out Stan is not the GM, but the coach. He wasn't responsible for some of the abysmal acquisitions, like Gilbert Arenas, Glen Davis, Hedo Turkoglu or Daniel Orton. Is it Stan's fault that Jameer Nelson can't guard 90 percent of the point guards in the league? Didn't think so.
Stan has to coach the group he has, which is tougher than it sounds. Stan also made a great point in his interview the other day: He can indeed get another job for next season. In fact, there's probably five to 10 franchises that would be happy to hire him, including the L.A. Clippers, Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks, for starters (although Mike Woodson has done a tremendous job as interim coach).
At this point, we have to assume Stan will not return next season, barring the Orlando Magic improbably capturing the 2012 NBA championship. Many questions will surround the franchise.
Does Dwight get moved to the Nets?
Is GM Otis Smith retained, and if so, why?
Who picks out the next coach?
With those questions in mind, here are five potential candidates to replace Stan Van Gundy as head coach of the Orlando Magic for the 2012-2013 season.
Candidate A: Maurice Cheeks, Assistant, Oklahoma City Thunder
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Cheeks has not been a head coach since being fired from Philadelphia early in the 2008-2009 season, but his reputation and image have been resurrected (if it was actually damaged) as an assistant to the wildly successful Scott Brooks and Oklahoma City Thunder.
Cheeks had a successful playing career in the NBA, but his overall win-loss record is questionable at 284-286 (.498). The big knock on Coach Cheeks is he has never gotten a team out of the first round.
That fact alone would mean Cheeks is a downgrade from Van Gundy, but that does not discount Cheeks from consideration.
Cheeks brings the pedigree of a point guard to the coaching realm, as well as NBA finals experience as an assistant coach for Philadelphia in the Allen Iverson glory years.
Would this be enough to please Dwight Howard and co? Probably not, but Cheeks will likely be a head coach again sooner than later.
Candidate B: (Currently Unemployed) Nate McMillan
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McMillan brings both a wealth of playing and head coaching experience to the table, but in many ways he is similar to Cheeks. The difference is McMillan has put together a slightly better overall coaching record, 478-452 (.514).
Two semi-successful stints with the SuperSonics and Trail Blazers netted Coach McMillan five playoff appearances, with one trip to the conference semifinals.
On merit alone, McMillan is a better choice than Cheeks but still not as accomplished as Van Gundy.
While the people of Orlando would view this as a pedestrian hire, the Magic could do much worse should Van Gundy not be retained.
McMillan has a history of turning around bad teams, but he never could quite turn the corner out on the West Coast.
Candidate C: (Currently Unemployed) Flip Saunders
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Excluding Phil Jackson, Saunders is arguably the most accomplished of the unemployed coaches who seek a return to coaching.
Yes, he was fired from Washington, but he was probably happy. Who would want to be the head coach when you're not sure if your best player is Nick Young or JaVale McGee?
Lack of talent aside, Saunders boasts a career record of 638-526, good for an almost 55 percent career winning percentage. That number is impressive considering he coached both the Wizards and Timberwolves in very dark times.
On the negative side, Saunders and his Minnesota team lost seven consecutive years in the first round. On the plus side, the following year they made the conference finals. So clearly the man knows how to coach a team to a respectable season.
After being fired from Minnesota, Saunders made three consecutive trips to the conference finals with the Detroit Pistons, who unceremoniously dumped him despite a staggeringly successful three-year run.
Since then, the Pistons have been dreadful.
In terms of appeasing Dwight Howard, Saunders has a track record of success with Kevin Garnett, something the Magic would be wise to keep in mind when looking at a new coach for next season.
Based on statistics, Saunders is probably a similar coach to Van Gundy but a much more attractive candidate than both Cheeks and McMillan.
Candidate D: Isiah Thomas (Unemployed as of Yesterday)
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(Caution: This is a joke.)
Thomas is about as destructive on teams as Michael Jordan is as a GM. Recently fired after an underwhelming 26-65 record, Thomas would be the worst possible choice the Magic could make.
Yes, he made the playoffs with Indiana, but that team was uber-talented, led by Reggie Miller.
The more likely scenario for Thomas is a return to the New York Knicks in a scouting role or consultation role, but ideally, all NBA franchises would steer clear of the man who could not compete in the Sun Belt Conference.
Candidate E: Patrick Ewing, Assistant, Orlando Magic
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I will go out on a limb and say this would be a devastatingly bad decision by the Magic, as Ewing has no head coaching experience.
The Magic are a playoff-ready team, and while Ewing is obviously a big-man specialist, turning to an inexperienced voice is not the solution.
Howard does seem to have a solid rapport with Ewing, which works out in Ewing's favor.
He also was able to interview for the Detroit job this past year, but the inexperience still looms large on Ewing's resume.
This is not to say he doesn't deserve a shot some day, but if the Magic are going to not extend the contract of the highly successful Van Gundy (making him a lame duck coach) or they choose to fire him, why turn to an inexperienced coach?
There are some other viable candidates out there: Golden State's Mike Malone, Indiana's Brian Shaw, Chicago's Ron Adams. But the problem with all those guys is a lack of head coaching experience.
Based on the available coaching talent at this time, keeping Van Gundy is clearly the best move, but it appears his authority has unfortunately been undermined.
Based on these developments, Flip Saunders would seem like the top candidate to be the coach for Orlando in 2012-2013.