Over the past few months, the fact of the matter has become painfully obvious that the Orlando Magic will most definitely have to choose between their All-NBA center Dwight Howard and the brash, polarizing coach Stan Van Gundy. While successful when cooperative, this duo's relationship, according to numerous sources, is marred beyond repair. Despite Dwight Howard being arguably the NBA's most dominant force, however, the Magic must decide to keep Van Gundy.
Since arriving in Orlando in 2007, Van Gundy has established the Magic as one of the most potent teams in the entire league. In his first season with the Magic, the veteran coach guided the squad to not only a division title, a feat not accomplished since the 1995-96 season, but a second-round playoff appearance, another task not completed since the Shaquille O'Neal days. Since his first year with the organization, the Magic have never failed to see postseason action.
Sure, Dwight Howard played more than just a vital role in the team's early success, as the 6'11" behemoth caused matchup nightmares on a routinely basis. His size and strength coupled with his athleticism proved to be a commanding combination. However, did Dwight Howard draw up the game plan? Did Dwight Howard figure out ways to maneuver around the lack of height or competent rebounders on the roster? Did Dwight Howard squeeze every ounce of talent out of the less than astounding supporting cast?
Absolutely not. That, my friends, was the work of the unappreciated Stan Van Gundy.
In the past five years, no franchise, besides the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, has won more combined regular-season and postseason wins than the Orlando Magic. A eye-popping statistic that should not be solely credited to the perennial All-Star Dwight Howard, as Van Gundy was always in the background calling the shots.
For the past few years, critics have been searching for the leader of the team on the veteran-filled roster. Well, the true leader is not being paid the big dollars or hitting the game-winners. Instead, Van Gundy comes to work with one thing on his mind: winning. A perfect testament to the aforementioned statement is his interview where he confesses to Howard's desire of his own departure. The coach dodges questions and, in Van Gundy style, wants to focus on the next exhibition match.
Just look at the way Van Gundy has led his team this playoffs. Many thought the Pacers were going to achieve a clear sweep of the Magic, but Van Gundy and his team won Game 1 and nearly pulled off a remarkable comeback in Game 4.
This debacle is eerily similar to the one that took place in Los Angeles not too long ago. After years of capitalizing on a weak NBA, the Lakers were faced with a problem that would dismantle a legendary triumvirate. I am, of course, referring to the rift between Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and coach Phil Jackson.
At first, the Lakers tried sorting things out, but, in a move that shocked the realm of professional basketball, the glorified franchise decided to ship three-time NBA Finals MVP O'Neal to the Miami Heat for essentially a lanky Lamar Odom and raw Caron Butler. Purple and Gold nation was up in arms for years, as many were calling for the head of either Bryant or Jackson. Though O'Neal received immediate success, as he captured his fourth ring in a matter of two season, Phil Jackson got the proverbial last laugh.
Behind Bryant, Jackson won two NBA Titles and cemented himself as the best coach in NBA History. While Van Gundy will never be in the upper echelon of coaches like Jackson, there is a lesson to be learned here.
By not taking their coach for granted, the Lakers created a dynasty that wreaked havoc on opposing squads for half of a decade.
In the end, Orlando will likely be going into the offseason with another first-round series defeat under their belts, as the Pacers are too big and talented for the Magic to advance already down 3-1, and numerous questions. With NBA Most Improved Player Award recipient Ryan Anderson without a long-term contract, Howard's future with the team in question and no valuable prospects on the roster, this offseason has the potential to possess much drama.
However, if the Magic want to make a return trip to the NBA Finals in the future, the team needs to make the correct decision and retain their current coach Van Gundy.
It is of the utmost importance.
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