The Atlanta Hawks are expected to vociferously pursue bringing Dwight Howard back to his hometown, and they reportedly think they have just the man for the job—former Orlando Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy.
As reported by Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Hawks general manager Danny Ferry has been in contact with Van Gundy and has him atop the team’s wish list for coaching candidates.
Van Gundy, 53, was Howard's coach in Orlando for five seasons from 2007-12. The duo led Orlando to an NBA Finals appearance in 2008-09 and won at least 63 percent of their games in all but one campaign.
Howard, whom the Magic traded to the Los Angeles Lakers prior to the 2012-13 season, is an unrestricted free agent this summer.
The relationship between Van Gundy and Howard has been one of thrill-ride highs and cavernous valleys—most of which played out in the public eye.
Following the Magic’s playoff appearance, they seemed to be pushing against the NBA’s proverbial glass ceiling. They never again went past the conference finals, and friction developed between the laissez-faire Howard and perfectionist Van Gundy.
Howard reportedly tried pushing the Magic to fire Van Gundy during the 2011-12 season. That friction between the two eventually bubbled up in a press conference where Van Gundy acknowledged Howard went to management and tried getting him removed from the post.
Orlando obliged after a first-round loss in the 2012 playoffs, but it didn’t keep Howard in town. He spent last season with the Lakers, finishing another controversy-mired 82-game slate.
The 27-year-old center has been noncommittal about whether he’ll re-sign with the Lakers, but the Hawks—equipped with a bevy of cap room—are expected to be among his top suitors.
Though their relationship ended on rocky terms, Wojnarowski notes that Howard has an increased appreciation for his old coach. And Van Gundy, speaking with Jon Saraceno of USA Today in January, seemed more than amenable to coaching D12 again.
“If I were coaching, and he were available, I would tell my GM, 'That is a guy you want,'" Van Gundy said. “He's smart, he defends—he does a lot of things.”
Van Gundy continued, stating the decision was never really up to him.
“(Howard) would have to answer this question: Would he want to play for me again?” Van Gundy said. “That was a definite issue.”
It's unknown whether either of the former Magic men wants to be in Atlanta, though many have speculatively attached Howard to the franchise because it sits in his hometown. What's clear, though, is that Ferry is ready to move on from his previous regime.
Current Atlanta coach Larry Drew and his staff are under contract until July 1, and no announcement has yet been made on his fate. However, Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears noted on Monday that Drew and his staff were already exploring new opportunities, with the assumption being he would not be retained.
The Hawks went 44-38 this season under Drew and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
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