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Saturday, January 05, 2008

Orlando's Words to Live By: "Is Dwight Cool With it?"

Orlando Sentinel writer Mike Bianchi points out that several of the "unpopular personnel assessments" made by fired Orlando Magic Coach Brian Hill "are turning out to be frighteningly accurate." For instance, Hill never put J.J. Redick into his playing rotation, did not make Darko Milicic a regular starter and questioned whether Jameer Nelson is truly a championship level point guard; the Redick situation in particular supposedly had a lot to do with Hill being fired but Redick is actually playing even fewer minutes this season than he did as a rookie.

Dwight Howard has emerged as a legitimate MVP level player this season but the Magic are not doing much better so far under the direction of Stan Van Gundy than they were last year; the Magic are currently 22-13, just one game better than they were last season after 35 games. Orlando started out 14-5 in 2006-07 but finished with a 40-42 record, while this season's squad started out 15-4 and has been sliding backwards ever since. It remains to be seen if Van Gundy can prevent this team from going into the full fledged free fall that ultimately cost Hill his job.

Bianchi says that Hill's departure can be explained by five simple words uttered by Howard. Hill has refused to publicly comment on his dismissal but when Howard was asked about it recently he admitted that Orlando management asked his opinion prior to making the move. What did Howard say? "I was cool with it." Howard may as well have declared, "Off with his head!" It is extremely unlikely that the Magic will fire a coach who Howard likes or hire one he does not like. That is just the way of the world in the NBA. Bianchi quotes a famous line by Chuck Daly, the former Pistons and Magic coach: "It's a player's league. The players allow you to coach them or they don't. Once they stop allowing you to coach, you're on your way out."

Here is Howard's take: "You have to like your coach. I think that's very important. It's hard to be around somebody all the time if you don't like them." I don't have a problem with that; it certainly makes sense for a team to try, within reason, to bring in a coach who establishes a good rapport with the franchise player (and, hopefully, with the rest of the roster as well). What I don't get is why some players are considered to be bad guys for greasing the rails for a coach's dismissal while other players get a free pass. Anyone who has followed the NBA closely for the past 25 years or so knows that Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan had a lot to do with the firings of Paul Westhead and Doug Collins respectively. Larry Bird certainly shed no tears about the firing of Bill Fitch. Shaquille O'Neal clearly preferred to be coached by Pat Riley instead of, ironically, Stan Van Gundy. Johnson got a ton of bad press in the wake of Westhead's dismissal, though the negative coverage receded somewhat after Riley replaced Westhead and led the Lakers to titles in 1982, 1985, 1987 and 1988. K.C. Jones guided Bird's Celtics to a pair of titles, while Phil Jackson led Jordan's Chicago Bulls to six titles and Riley's Heat won the 2006 championship. It is possible that Howard's palace coup will escape national attention simply because it took place in Orlando, hardly a media mecca. However, if Howard does receive criticism then his best course of action will be to follow in the footsteps of Johnson, Bird, Jordan and O'Neal by winning at least one title with a new coach running the show.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:47 AM

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