Shaq denies getting Van Gundy fired, but ...
So a star center wants Stan Van Gundy to be fired. To some, that might sound like a situation similar to six years ago with the Miami Heat.
Van Gundy, who claimed Thursday that Dwight Howard wants him fired from his job as Orlando Magic coach, resigned as Heat coach in December 2005. There were some who believed center Shaquille O'Neal played a part in Van Gundy's exit, but he denied that.
"No, I didn't play a role," O'Neal, now a TNT analyst, said in a telephone interview Thursday night with FOX Sports Florida. "I ain't going to take credit for that."
If you get the feeling O'Neal doesn't have a great deal of respect for Van Gundy, you would be right. O'Neal said the Heat never would have won the NBA title in June 2006 had Pat Riley not replaced Van Gundy on the bench.
"Pat Riley was smart enough because he's been there before to know that the team that was playing was not responding and would only respond to a person with the proper resume," O'Neal said of Riley coming out of the Heat front office to replace Van Gundy and win his fifth NBA title as a coach. "We knew that Pat Riley could take us there, and that's exactly what he did. When he came in there, we started playing hard and (for) the playoffs took the No. 1 spot (they were actually No. 2) and we won the championship. That never would have happened if Stan was there. Ever. I'm telling you it wouldn't have (happened)."
O'Neal often has blasted Van Gundy, calling him three years ago a "master of panic." After Van Gundy said Thursday that somebody in the front office had told him Howard wants him fired, O'Neal said he was displeased with Van Gundy revealing that.
O'Neal said "leaders are supposed to (not reveal) confidential conversations." O'Neal said Van Gundy has severely hampered relations with his team, but he didn't go so far as to say he immediately should be fired.
"Well, the team is lost," O'Neal said. "If the team is lost and they want to salvage their season, they're going to have to make some sort of decision. I don't know what that is."
O'Neal reiterated that the Heat made the right decision in Riley taking over as coach in 2006.
"Pat Riley is one of the greatest general managers and one of the greatest coaches to ever play the game," O'Neal said of Riley, who went 41-20 in 2005-06 with the Heat after they had started 11-10 under Van Gundy. "He knew what he was doing. So him being a great leader, he made a decision. That's what great leaders do. And Pat Riley made the right decision and led us to the championship that year."
The Heat now are trying to win their first title since then. O'Neal gives them a reasonable shot to do that.
"If everything goes right and they play well, they have the opportunity along with like six other teams," O'Neal said. "We'll see what happens."
O'Neal does think well enough of the Heat that forward LeBron James would be his pick for MVP if the season ended now.
"I would probably go with LeBron. . . . But (Kevin Durant) would be a close second," O'Neal said. "It wouldn't be like no landslide vote."
O'Neal said he has been going back and forth on his MVP thoughts, and that "certain days it's LeBron, certain days it's KD." O'Neal did indicate, though, that Durant is more important to his team.
"If you take LeBron off that team, they're close to a regular team,'' O'Neal said. "But if you take Durant off Oklahoma City, then that becomes an expansion team.''
Wait a minute. Without Durant, the Thunder still would have Russell Westbrook, a two-time All-Star guard.
"Westbrook is a good player, but he gets space because Durant is out there," O'Neal said. "You take Durant off them and all teams focus on him, and he would be forced to do other things."
The Heat beat the Thunder 98-93 on Wednesday, perhaps giving James a slight lead in the MVP race. It was the 17th straight home win for Miami, one short of a franchise record.
The Heat, meanwhile, have lost seven of their past 10 on the road. But O'Neal isn't overly concerned about that.
"That's part of the Miami Heat culture; they always want to get that No. 1 spot (for the playoffs) so they get home-court advantage," said O'Neal, who played for the Heat from 2004-08. "As long as they're dominant at home, they can steal some games on the road."
When the Heat won the title in 2006, they stole Game 6 in Dallas to win the series 4-2. And, yes, O'Neal believes that wouldn't have happened had Van Gundy still been the coach.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @christomasson