The Orlando Magic have made the first two moves they had to make to have any chance at persuading Dwight Howard to sign the contract extension he's balked at until now.
The Magic announced Monday that coach Stan Van Gundy and general manager Otis Smith have left the building, which removes the two prime personalities whom Howard -- rightly or wrongly -- had lost faith in.
Those changes alone don't guarantee that Howard will stay, according to sources familiar with his thinking, but the prospect of Orlando hiring a proven team builder like Donnie Walsh to mentor in-house favorite Adonal Foyle -- then going out and getting a coach who could try to build a better bond with Howard than Van Gundy had -- at least gives Orlando fresh hope.
Ditto for the idea that Howard, as some rival executives believe, might be increasingly interested in locking in some long-term security after season-ending back surgery that represents the first major injury of his career.
The biggest factor when it comes to convincing Howard to sign an extension, of course, will be the moves that the new GM can swing with a roster short on tradeable commodities.
The coaching hire, though, is plenty significant in the wake of Howard’s well-chronicled resistance to Van Gundy’s guidance, so expect to hear all kinds of names as possibilities to fill the Van Gundy void, ranging from the experienced (such as Nate McMillan and Mike D'Antoni) to the unproven but up-and-coming (like Mike Malone and Brian Shaw).
And rest assured that Van Gundy won't have to wait long if, unlike brother Jeff, he wants to jump straight back into the game. Orlando had become untenable for SVG after the unforgettable shootaround in April when he told reporters that he knew Dwight wanted him out, but he remains highly regarded as a bench strategist.
Too highly regarded to stay unemployed for long ... even if some owners out there are bound to be a bit gun-shy about Stan's, shall we say, bare-his-soul openness with us media pests.
If it turns out that Howard continues to reject the extension, presumably forcing the Magic to trade him before the start of next season, they might eventually come to regret having ousted Van Gundy, who until Monday ranked on this scorecard as the only other star that Orlando had besides Howard. But Magic officials, after everything they’ve witnessed in this circus season, undoubtedly see this house-cleaning as risk they have to take.
Since there’s only one Dwight Howard in the basketball universe. Like him or not.