Magic begin offseason likely filled with change
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The Magic found themselves at the center of the NBA universe several times this season.
The only problem was that it was for reasons everyone in the Orlando organization not only loathed, but never wants to duplicate again.
After four months of soap opera-caliber drama that included a preseason trade demand by Dwight Howard, a word war over whether the all-star center asked coach Stan Van Gundy to be fired and a rash of late-season injuries that culminated in a second straight first-round playoff exit, change is likely on tap for the Magic.
That could not only mean a new head coach or general manager, but even major changes to Orlando’s current roster.
“We’re going to start a full evaluation process of our entire organization,” Magic CEO Alex Martins said Wednesday, a day after the Magic’s 4-1 first-round playoff series loss to Indiana. “That’s what we do at the end of each season … and everything will be evaluated.
“Everything that we’ve done over the years is about getting to win a championship, and unfortunately just getting to the playoffs is just not good enough.”
Howard rescinded his trade request in mid-March, and later gave up the opt-out clause for this summer, which will keep him under contract for the final year of his current deal next season.
But with the Magic still facing the possibility of Howard playing out next year and then leaving them with no compensation by signing with another team free agency, they must either get him to commit long-term or possibly trade him before then.
“I don’t think anybody wants to go through the season we just went through,” Martins said.
Howard is currently in Los Angeles recovering from late-season back surgery that caused him to miss the Magic’s final 17 games of the season, including the playoff loss to Indiana. Orlando went 5-12 without him.
Martins said he, president of basketball operations Otis Smith and members of ownership have spoken to Howard, but not specifically yet about signing a long-term contract extension.
He also said there hasn’t been a timetable on making a decision on Howard’s situation, or on retaining the services of Van Gundy or Smith.
Howard has previously noted issues with both at times, but has repeatedly maintained that he never asked management to fire Van Gundy, though the coach said he has been told by team officials that it’s happened.
“I think everyone deserves and needs some time to cool off after a very trying season,” Martins said. “But nobody deserves to be left in limbo…It’s not a tricky position (evaluating everyone). It’s what we do.”
Van Gundy expressed a desire Wednesday to return next season, but Smith said he is actually “50-50” in his mind on whether he still has the desire to return. Smith and Van Gundy each have a season remaining on their current contracts.
Van Gundy’s accomplishments are documented, having won 50-plus games in each of his first four seasons and making the playoffs all five of his seasons. He took the Magic the NBA finals in 2009.
Smith was the architect of those clubs, but has also made questionable moves such as trading for Gilbert Arenas, whose contract has since been amnestied.
“I talked to Otis a little bit today, but nothing about that,” Van Gundy said of his future. “They’re gonna decide one way or another and you go with that. That part of doesn’t weigh on me at all. There’s only two things that can happen, it’s not like menu of options. You either fire me or you don’t fire me.”
Smith said he thinks Van Gundy is “a hell of a basketball coach” but that any personnel decisions on him or Howard would be done “110 percent of what’s in the interest of the organization.” He also said deciding whether he wants to remain on personally would come before any type of thoughts about Howard or how the roster should look going forward.
“You have to have clarity on the top before you decide anything else,” Smith said.
While the futures of Smith, Van Gundy and Howard will certainly grab most of the immediate offseason attention, they aren’t t the only pressing personnel issues for the franchise.
Reigning NBA Most Improved Player Ryan Anderson becomes a restricted free agent this summer and it’s not a forgone conclusion that the fourth-year forward will be in a Magic uniform next year. The Magic have the option of matching any offer he receives from another team, but such a bid could be for more money than Orlando is willing to spend to retain him.
He said to say this season has been taxing for he and his teammates is an understatement.
“I don’t think it’s possible (to sum it up), you’d have to write a book,” Anderson said. “We played probably not the best we could. But we fought the best we could … at the same time, you wish it all would have never happened.”
As to his future, he said he wants to remain in Orlando, but added that “it’s gonna be a little while” before he makes a decision.
There are also questions about what point guard Jameer Nelson will do.
Nelson has a player option next season of around $8.5 million. He said he believes he has until July to inform officials of his intentions.
Nelson was drafted along with Howard and has played his entire NBA career in Orlando.
“I can’t make my decision until some other decisions are made around here,” Nelson said. “Like I said before, I want to be here in an Orlando Magic uniform and I love being in this city.”
Easily Howard’s best friend on the team, he said he has yet to address his future with anybody.
“It’s a lot of variables that play a part for me. It’s just not one thing,” Nelson said. “I’m not sure what’s going on. I don’t know what’s going on in Orlando. At this point I’m not quite sure nobody knows.”
Glen “Big Baby” Davis, who was the Magic’s lone offseason trade acquisition when he was dealt from Boston in December for Brandon Brandon Bass, still has three years remaining on the four-year, $26 million deal he signed.
With Howard out, Davis stepped up down the stretch, posting a career-best 19 points and nine rebounds per game in the postseason.
He acknowledged that the beginning of his first season in a new uniform “was kind of rocky for me” after coming in with the expectation of starting before being beat out by Anderson.
But Davis said that things were going on that he had no control over, referencing his suspension for a verbal altercation with Van Gundy, and his father and grandmother dying within three weeks of each other.
“When I finally got to settle down and do the things that I like to do, and that’s play the game of basketball at a high level, I feel like I did a pretty good job on the floor,” he said. “I just think there’s more to come for me as a basketball player.”
He said he plans to spend the entire summer in Orlando getting ready to contribute to whatever team comes back next season
“I don’t have any control over management or what happens with Dwight’s situation,” Davis said. “I’m on this team and that’s all I can control…That’s my pledge, to not let players or anything affect what we’re trying to do. And that’s win a championship.”