Would anybody blame Stan Van Gundy if he were to pull an Eric Cartman and say “screw you guys, I’m going home?” Pardon the use of superlatives, but the amount of nonsensical drama that he has been put through in the past few years has to be unprecedented.
Van Gundy has been made into a sympathetic figure by Dwight Howard. This is coming from a guy who has spent years arguing that the Magic coach is an insufferable prick who is always eager to offer excuse after excuse for his team. He was like the parent of the poorly-behaved elementary school student who always had a person to blame for their child’s lack of success. Having said that, those days are a thing of the past. Van Gundy was often lauded for “telling the truth.” Up until recently, I didn’t see it that way. I believed that he was more-so giving his own subjective version of the truth as opposed to a fair and unbiased description of what was happening.
A perfect example comes from the 2008-2009 season. On St. Patrick’s Day of 2009, the Orlando Magic visited the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs had a better record than the Magic, but Orlando posed a lot of match up issues. The game was a close one and there was a key moment down the stretch when Dwight Howard was called for a three second violation. Van Gundy had the following to say about that call:
“You won’t see that call again. That, I guarantee you,” Van Gundy said. “You will not see, with the game on the line, a 3-second call in the last 10 seconds. That’s part of the reason they’re 30-1 at home. They’re a very good team, and when you get calls like that (expletive), you’re in pretty good shape.”
Fast-forward to the first round of the 2009 playoffs and the Magic played the 76ers. Tony Dileo, who was coaching the 76ers at the time, felt that Dwight Howard was getting to spend a little too long in the paint without being called for a three second violation:
“Dwight Howard had a great game, and he’s a great player, but he just lives in the 3-second lane on offense and defense,” DiLeo said. “I’m just saying he’s standing in the 3-second lane on offense and defense. He’s a great player, and he doesn’t need any advantages.”
Stan Van Gundy did not bat an eye and was quick to Dwight Howard’s defense:
“Am I supposed to come up here and talk about the game. Or am I supposed to come up here and lobby for the calls I want the next game?” Is that what it’s about now? We’re supposed to lobby for the calls we want the next game? Let’s just play the games. I guess that’s the only reason Dwight’s having success in this series. It has nothing to do with the fact that he’s good.”
I am not here to call Stan Van Gundy a hypocrite. These are three year old quotes and they involve an NBA coach doing and saying things that are supposed to help his team win. To Stan Van Gundy, it didn’t matter that his quotes (which were a little over a month apart) could be taken as hypocritical. He simply was lobbying for his team. This is something that he possibly did to a fault and the thanks he gets is a divided locker room and a star player with one foot out the door demanding that he be fired.
While it may seem that Stan Van Gundy was throwing Dwight Howard under the bus and putting his team in an awkward situation by calling his star player out in the media on Thursday, the bottom line is that he has been in his corner for many years. Dwight Howard has Van Gundy to thank for getting the most out of his game and many consider him an MVP candidate. It is probably bad form for a coach to throw his star player under the bus. However, after all that Van Gundy did for Howard, it is understandable. Not only did he take his game to another level and have a part in turning him into a maximum-contract player, he always had his back even when it was questionable to do so. At some point, it should be expected for Van Gundy to take a stand and stick up for himself.
The Magic front office has not made the team a desirable destination for Dwight Howard. A player of his caliber deserves better teammates and it is difficult to place blame on Howard for wanting to leave. Where he does deserve a lot of blame is for being aloof and indecisive throughout the whole process. Howard had the perfect opportunity to leave Orlando prior to the 2012 trade deadline and instead he opted into the last year of his contract and called for his coach’s head.
Even though the Magic have a lot of blame in this situation, most of it should be placed on Howard. He had an out and decided to prolong the awkwardness despite how it would affect a lot of different people professionally. Stan Van Gundy and Dwight Howard will be fine. No matter how this pans out, Howard will be an elite center and Van Gundy will be a great coach either in Orlando or another market. It is simply a shame that this is even happening for such a prolonged period of time.