On Monday afternoon, the Orlando Magic did what many expected them to do for some time. They fired Head Coach Stan Van Gundy and announced that the organization and General Manager Otis Smith mutually decided to part ways.
Although the Magic have been ousted from the first round of the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, Van Gundy’s coaching ability can’t be questioned. Since being hired in 2007, Van Gundy led the Magic to a 259-135 record in five seasons. The Magic also made the postseason in all five of Van Gundy’s seasons, posting a 31-28 record. The Magic also won three Southeast Division titles and one Eastern Conference Championship under Van Gundy’s watch.
Van Gundy helped many NBA fans learn a different way of playing the game. His offensive strategy in Orlando was to take the league’s best big man in Dwight Howard and surround him with four shooters. When the Magic acquired Rashard Lewis in 2007, many wondered what the Magic would do with him considering they already had a Small Forward in Hedo Turkoglu. The Magic inserted Lewis into the Power Forward as a “Stretch Four” and immediate success followed. In Van Gundy’s first season, the Magic defeated the Toronto Raptors in five games in the first round of the playoffs, winning their first playoff series since 1996.
Van Gundy rode that style to an upset of both the defending champion Boston Celtics and the heavily favored Cleveland Cavaliers a year later, sending the Magic to the NBA playoffs where they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in four games.
Van Gundy’s offensive philosophy showed that shooting a lot of three-pointers isn’t bad thing. In fact, it’s efficient! In Van Gundy’s five seasons, the Magic finished ninth, eighth, second, and 10th in offensive efficiency before falling to 14th in this injury plagued season. They finished second, third, second, sixth and fourth in effective field goal percentage during that same span.
For those that believe you can’t win playing that style (and many national pundits constantly say it), the Magic proved people wrong – they did win. They were in the 2009 NBA Finals and returned to the Eastern Conference Finals the next season. They have the fourth best record in the NBA over the last five seasons.
Plus, Van Gundy’s teams were even better on defense, finishing 11th, first, first, third and 13th in defensive efficiency during Van Gundy’s tenure.
Simply put, Van Gundy is the greatest coach in Orlando Magic history.
Magic CEO Alex Martins held a press conference to announce the decision.
Obviously, the immediate speculation was that this firing was more about Dwight Howard’s relationship with Van Gundy moreso than anything else. Of course, this all stems from Van Gundy’s admitting that he knew Howard asked management to fire him a few months back.
Martins denied that was the case.
“Yes their relationship was a challenge, but Dwight Howard never asked me to fire Stan Van Gundy,” Martins said.
Of course, Martins continued to say Howard never came to him to ask the team to remove Van Gundy. That doesn’t mean he didn’t have that discussion with former CEO Bob Vander Weide, Owner Rich DeVos or his son, Dan DeVos.
The relationship between the two has always seemed a little strained. Howard has publicly asked Van Gundy to lighten up and take it easy, something that clearly isn’t Van Gundy’s style.
“Stan is one of the best strategic coaches in the current NBA, but the job requires more than that,” Martins explained.
In fact, Martins even admitted the Magic “may not find anyone better” in terms of strategy than Van Gundy.
That comment makes things simple: The Magic want a player’s coach and that’s not who Van Gundy is. (Who is that guy? I went over some of the potential candidates to replace Van Gundy here.)
With most close to the situation are still of the belief Howard still wants out of Orlando, the moves doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Although the Magic may live to regret the day they let one of the league’s best coaches go, I’m not sure Van Gundy will. He was clearly tired of the drama and the situation in Orlando, as evidenced by his attitude towards the rumors about Howard and Van Gundy’s own job status over the last few months.
Plus, Van Gundy will have his pick of jobs. Whether he wants any of the current openings (Portland, Charlotte), wants to wait for a higher profile job to potentially open (Los Angeles Clippers), or even wants to join his brother on ESPN (please let this happen), he’s going to bounce back and probably do so quickly.
As for the Magic, they could have a long road ahead of them.
(Andrew Melnick is the ESPNFlorida.com Magic and NBA Insider, co-host of the ESPN 1080 Insiders Show and publisher of Howard the Dunk. The Insiders Show can be heard Sunday mornings at 10:00 am EST on AM 1080 in Orlando and on ESPNFlorida.com. You can follow Andrew on twitter here.)