Stan Van Gundy firing, Magic shakeup leave Dwight Howard at top

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It’s been a soap opera of a season for the Orlando Magic and now the first wheel has been set in motion in the team’s apparent effort to keep superstar center Dwight Howard. Coach Stan Van Gundy has been fired, and Otis Smith has mutually agreed with management to end his stint as general manager.

Magic Chief Executive Alex Martins, in a news conference Monday, said that it was “time for new leadership and a new voice.”

And that voice might sound a lot like Howard, who had been set to be a free agent July 1 before he agreed to a one-year contract extension when it appeared the Magic would not be able to send him packing by the trade deadline.

At Monday’s news conference, Martins cited elimination in the first round of the playoffs in the last two seasons as playing a “primary role” in the decision to make the management change, according to the Associated Press.

But it was no secret that Howard and Van Gundy –- and Howard and Smith –- had problems with each other. And many in the organization thought the only hope for keeping Howard was to get rid of Van Gundy and Smith.

Which the organization has now done, despite Van Gundy’s record as the winningest coach in franchise history.

As The Times’ sister paper the Orlando Sentinel reports, an April 5 incident involving the media might have put Van Gundy on the road to split from the team. Van Gundy told a reporter that he believed Howard wanted him fired. He said he had heard it “from the top.”

Then the All-Star center walked up, put his arm around the coach and ridiculed the story of dissension.

Van Gundy walked away, and reporters peppered Howard with questions about the coach’s claim.

On Monday, Martins still said that Van Gundy’s assertion was not true: “Dwight never asked me for Stan to be fired,” Martins said, according to the Sentinel.

Will Howard have a say in the hiring of the next coach or general manager? That remains to be seen as the Magic and the team’s fans watch the drama continue to unfold.



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Stan Van Gundy firing, Magic shakeup leave Dwight Howard at top