Why the Orlando Magic Made a Big Mistake by Firing Stan Van Gundy

Sam QuinnContributor IIIMay 21, 2012

DENVER, CO - APRIL 22:  Head coach Stan Van Gundy leads the Orlando Magic against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on April 22, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Magic 101-74. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

I'm usually a proponent of stars meaning more than coaches in basketball. Unless you have a Greg Popovich or Phil Jackson you can replace most coaches, especially if your best player wants someone new. But I can't condone the Magic firing Stan Van Gundy to satisfy the whims of a 26-year-old child. 

The question Orlando seems to be asking themselves before any move is "does this help us keep Dwight Howard?"

But here's the problem. There's simply no chance that they can keep Howard. I don't know what came over him for a brief spell in March, but signing an "opt-in" doesn't mean he has any intention of sticking around long term. 

The most likely scenarios are that he forces a trade to Brooklyn this summer, a trade to the Lakers next spring or simply walks away as a free agent in a year. In other words, Howard is leaving no matter what.

That didn't have to be the case for Stan Van Gundy. He is one of the best coaches in the league, and while I wouldn't put him in the Jackson-Popovich class, he isn't too far behind. His teams have won at least 52 games every year since his first as a head coach (barring shortened seasons). 

His .641 winning percentage is actually better than Pat Riley's, the man who replaced him in Miami. In fact, if he never coaches another game he'll retire with the sixth-highest career winning percentage among head coaches of all time. 

Keep in mind that outside of Howard, Van Gundy's Orlando teams have been mediocre at best. In the 2009 playoffs he had Hedo Turkoglu taking the majority of the clutch shots. Coaches who can succeed under circumstances like that are rare, and yet the Magic still want to get rid of theirs. 

All to satisfy a player who is leaving anyway.

Sooner or later the Magic are going to have to rebuild. If they're lucky they'll be able to turn Howard into some quality young players and cap relief, but based on their track record it seems fairly likely that they'll lose him for nothing. 

They are satisfying a player who they have no need to satisfy. If Dwight Howard doesn't want to be a part of their future they shouldn't ruin it trying to satisfy him in the present.

When that rebuilding period comes, wouldn't you rather have a proven coach like Van Gundy than whatever retread head coach or first time assistant they manage to pull in? I rest my case.