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Monday, May 21, 2012
Updated: May 22, 7:50 AM ET
Magic didn't help themselves

By Jemele Hill
ESPN.com

If the rationale behind ousting coach Stan Van Gundy and general manager Otis Smith was to make staying in Orlando more appealing to Dwight Howard, the Magic have failed.

The Magic better hope Howard signs a long-term extension with them, because if he leaves the franchise, Orlando will have fired a coach who never missed the playoffs in his seven full seasons and had a .627 overall winning percentage just to appease a petulant, wishy-washy All-Star.

Howard/Van Gundy
Stan Van Gundy won't be Dwight Howard's coach next season.

In professional sports, especially in the NBA, players are more valuable than coaches and general managers, and it's fair to guess that not a single fan ever bought a ticket to see either Smith or Van Gundy.

Not that Van Gundy and Smith are blameless. Van Gundy must have known he sealed his fate when he told the media that Howard wanted him fired, leading to an exchange between the two that was about as awkward as the one Will Smith just had on the red carpet.

Jettisoning Smith makes total sense. Since the Magic made their run to the NBA Finals in 2009, they have gotten progressively worse because of Smith's baffling moves -- which included trading for Gilbert Arenas when he was still owed $62 million, trading for an aging Vince Carter and giving up promising guard Courtney Lee, and bringing back Hedo Turkogolu, who, like Arenas, had diminishing skills and a bad contract.

This was the second straight year the Magic lost in the first round of the playoffs. And while Howard's back kept him out of this postseason, they aren't remotely close to competing for an NBA championship.

Given all the debris and uncertainty floating around this franchise, why would Howard stay now?

There is nothing about Howard's actions or makeup that suggests he's comfortable with the pressure that comes with pulling off this kind of power play. If Howard stays, it will be all on him. And as sensitive as Howard is about his image, perhaps he doesn't want to play in front of fans who know he's a coach-killer.

But for the sake of argument, let's say Howard stays. He's fooling himself if he really thinks the Magic are closer to winning a championship without Van Gundy, who maximized this roster and turned Ryan Anderson, an unknown, into the league's most improved player.

What coach out there, who is a realistic option for the Magic, is better than Van Gundy? Who can do better than a pair of 59-win seasons and an appearance in the NBA Finals? And even if the Magic find a coach who cultivates a better relationship with Howard, what real authority will that coach have when the perception is that he is there only because it pleases Howard?

Besides, if Howard has paid any attention to the Magic's history, he should know Orlando isn't exactly known for making bold, inspiring managerial moves. The Magic hired Billy Donovan, who quit after a day. They fired Doc Rivers and replaced him with Johnny Davis, who went 51-84 in two partial, disastrous seasons. They hired and fired Brian Hill -- twice.

The Magic's track record at general manager is just as questionable. They put John Weisbrod in charge, even though he was a former pro hockey player with no previous NBA experience.

Otis Smith
Otis Smith didn't exactly build the best lineup around Dwight Howard.

So while hiring a proven architect such as Donnie Walsh would make perfect basketball sense, in the past, the Magic have gone with a safe, predictable, but ill-suited hire.

There already was a report that the Magic interviewed former player Adonal Foyle, who has spent the past two years as the Magic's director of player development, long before Smith was fired.

Foyle has the same position Smith held before he became general manager, and while Foyle is known for his high character and work ethic, he simply doesn't have the experience to reshape the Magic into a championship contender.

Regardless of the choice, the new GM and the franchise better prepare for mediocrity, at best, if they fail to re-sign Howard.

By pushing out Smith and Van Gundy, the Magic didn't show they are serious about winning. They showed they don't know how to manage a superstar or, for that matter, a professional NBA franchise.