NEWARK, N.J.: If the Magic follow through on Dwight Howard’s request and fire coach Stan Van Gundy this summer, the Cavaliers will have played at least a small role in this entire debacle.
In less than three years, the Magic have disintegrated from kings of the Eastern Conference into a pack of middle-school girls who paint each other’s nails, then the next day gossip about one another. It all began three years ago, when the Magic stunned the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals and indirectly sped up the clock on expectations for everyone in central Florida.
The paths traveled by both the Cavaliers and Magic in recent years are eerily similar.
When the Cavs shocked the NBA by beating the Detroit Pistons in the conference finals in 2007 with an incredibly flawed roster, it fast tracked an already frenzied approach to surround LeBron James with enough talent to win a championship. Their early arrival as an elite team raised expectations prematurely and prompted a flurry of moves the next season, such as the roster overhaul that brought Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West to Cleveland and shipped out players like Larry Hughes, Drew Gooden and Shannon Brown.
The accelerated plan made the Cavs’ failure to play for another title all the more crushing, eventually resulting in James’ departure.
The same is now true of the Magic, who similarly burst into the elite class a year sooner than expected. Once they beat the Cavs to advance to the Finals in 2009, it expedited the plan to surround Howard with enough talent to win a championship.
The Magic, just like the Cavs before them, dismantled their roster in one day of frenzied trading early last season. Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu were in, while Carter, valuable backup big man Marcin Gortat, Mickael Pietrus and a first-round pick were shipped out.
None of the moves really worked. The Bulls and Heat beefed up their rosters considerably in recent years, leaving the Magic a distant third in the East – at best – and stranded with few assets to improve a roster in disarray. They’ve been unable to return to the NBA Finals since beating the Cavs, a trend that isn’t likely to change this spring.
The slow regression over a three-year period has left Howard frustrated and holding the franchise hostage while he toys with the idea of leaving.
Just as the Cavaliers before them, the Magic are groveling for their star to stay. They’re desperate enough to offer anything Howard wants, including changes to the roster or coaching staff.
James drove Mike Brown out of Cleveland without uttering a word. No one within the Cavs was convinced Brown needed to be fired except owner Dan Gilbert, who believed the relationship between coach and star player had eroded to the point where the only shot the Cavs had for James to return was if Brown didn’t. So Brown was fired, and James left anyhow.
Now Howard has asked Orlando management to fire Van Gundy. How do we know this? Because Van Gundy confirmed it this week in a surreal meeting with reporters when he said management informed him Howard asked for his removal. Moments later, Howard walked into the group and put his arm around his coach – unaware that Van Gundy had just revealed Howard’s request.
Unless they win a championship, which certainly seems a long shot at this point, the Magic will enter the summer offseason in an awkward position.
Keeping Van Gundy now would seem to ensure that Howard will leave. But they could fire Van Gundy, who is completing his fifth season and is the longest-tenured and most successful coach in team history, and still lose Howard.
The Cavaliers can certainly relate, but at least their drama unfolded under the cloak of an offseason and not under the intense spotlight of an NBA regular season and playoff run.
However this ends in Orlando, it’s guaranteed to be messy. In the land of a Magic Kingdom and Disney, that old lyric has proven false.
When you wish upon a star;
Makes no difference who you are;
Anything your heart desires;
Will come to you.
In the land of the NBA, wishing upon a star is sure to lead to heartache, drama, upheaval and, eventually, unemployment.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.