With about a month left to go in the regular season and sitting in the 6th spot in the Eastern Conference, you'd think the attention in Orlando would be focused on the postseason. In any normal year, on any normal team, that would be the case. But for the Orlando Magic, life continues to revolve around the drama that is Dwight Howard.
Howard, perhaps the best big man in the league, held the NBA hostage in the first half of the season with his indecision on whether or not he was staying with the Magic and the ramification of the poorly handled situation is still being felt to this day.
The current distraction for the squad revolves around Howard supposedly lobbying Orlando management to fire head coach Stan Van Gundy.
Van Gundy, known for being hard on superstars, expecting them to actually be accountable on the court, was surprisingly candid about the subject in an interview before Orlando's showdown with the Knicks on Thursday night. He openly confirmed that Howard asked for his removal and states that he has accurate information on the topic from a reliable source.
"I was told it was true by people in our management," Van Gundy said Thursday. "So right from the top."
Howard, for his part, was in complete denial of the story and seemed taken aback that his coach came out and said so. The big man, obviously rattled, rebutted Van Gundy's tale and firmly stated the story was pure fabrication.
"The only thing that we're concerned with is winning a championship right now.” Howard said Thursday.
"Whatever happens at the end of the season is not under my control. I am a player for the Magic. I am not the GM. I am not [owner] Rich DeVos. I am not [president] Alex Martins. That is not my job. … I haven't said anything to anybody about anything…I woke up just like you did yesterday, and I saw all of a sudden I want Stan out of here. Why would I want Stan to be fired with 12 games left in the season? Who's going to be the coach? “
For Van Gundy's part, he isn't outwardly worried about the situation, taking a realists view of things. A view which can basically be summed up as 'I'm the coach today so as of today, I'm still employed. And tomorrow, well, we will deal with it when it gets here.'
"Nobody has to go anywhere if they fire me," Van Gundy said. "I don't think [the players] are too worried about that. I don't take anybody with me. … When it comes out that one of the highest-profile players in the league has asked for his coach to be fired, it's going to be a story. … But nobody needs to worry about me.
"I'll be fine. If I need to, I can get another job. I have money put away, so there's no concern about job security, and there shouldn't be any real concern about what Dwight wants right now, quite honestly. That's not what it's about."
Whatever the truth is, it's obvious that it has blown up into a distraction for the team as Orlando looked horrible in an important showdown with the New York Knicks on Thursday night. They looked listless and unmotivated in an embarrassing 96-80 loss.
With the Magic wanting Howard to stay beyond next year, the writing is on the wall for Van Gundy, so it's hard to point fingers at a behavior that is undermining the team. But however that falls this offseason, he needs to concentrate on the season now and getting his team geared for a run instead of stirring the pot with the media.
Of course, the same can be said for Dwight Howard.