The Orlando Magic’s Stan Van Gundy has distinguished himself as a solid NBA coach. The brother of former New York Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy led the Magic to a 52-30 regular season record in 2007-08, his first as the club’s head coach, and followed it up this season with a mark of 59-23.
Prior to this stop his regular season record was 112-73 in two plus seasons as the lead man on the Miami Heat’s bench. Pat Riley, the current president of the Heat and onetime Knicks head coach, dumped Van Gundy in December 2005 to take over the reigns and went on to win the championship in June (4-2 over the Dallas Mavericks) with series MVP Dwayne Wade and Shaquille O’ Neal.
Yes, I know Van Gundy officially resigned. But anyone who thinks he wasn’t forced out is delusional. Riley wanted back on the bench after watching Wade, the fifth pick in the 2003 draft behind LeBron James, Darko Milicic, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh respectively develop into one of the league’s best players. Sensing a franchise player in the making, to his credit Riley swung a deal for O’Neal to secure a second dominant star. Upon Shaq’s arrival he also wanted Riley to coach the team and made no secret of it. These dynamics sealed Van Gundy’s fate.
To digress for a moment, just to add more misery to Knicks fans era of discontent, four picks after Wade was selected, the team from MSG took the forgettable Michael Sweetney at No. 9 ahead of David West (18), Boris Diaw (21), Kendrick Perkins (27), Leandro Barbosa (28) and Josh Howard (29).
Back to Van Gundy. This is what he said during a press conference to announce his departure from the Heat: “If I’m getting forced out, I would have gotten absolutely every dollar on my contract and walked out the door,” he argued. “Anybody who’s speculating otherwise has to do so in total disregard of the facts of the situation.”
The Magic should make a strong playoff run led by the Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard. But after losing to the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 at home in the opening round by 100-98 on a game winning shot by Andre Iguodala, this after the Magic blew an 18-point third quarter lead, Van Gundy quickly blamed his players and failed to be accountable for the defeat.
He has done this on several occasions this season. His stream of consciousness rants have made for great sound bites. Yet Van Gundy needs to look within for the reason why his players often ignore Howard in the paint during crunch time and settle for low percentage jumpers, as they did against the Sixers. It is a reflection of the coach when a team executes poorly when the chips are down.
Tonight, in Game 2, the Magic bounced back and evened the series at 1-1 with a 96-87 win. Howard’s numbers were underwhelming for him – 11 points and 10 rebounds – but rookie Courtney Lee, one of the hidden gems of the 2008 draft (22nd pick) had 24 points to lead Orlando.
As the series moves on to Philly for the next two games, the Magic will be in for a tough battle. In order for Orlando to make it into the next round, Howard must show that he is indeed ready to take a step closer to the LeBron-Kobe-Wade exclusive rent district and perform like a top five player. And Van Gundy must cease the public finger-pointing and allow accountability for losses to rest on his shoulders as much as it does his players.