The Dwight Howard-Stan Van Gundy relationship seems to be on shaky ground and nothing may have shown that more than what took place at the Orlando Magic's morning shootaround before the team's home game against the New York Knicks on Thursday.
Van Gundy has led the Magic to at least 50 wins in each of his four previous seasons. (Reuters/Kevin Kolczynski)
Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy told reporters that team management had confirmed to him various reports that Howard wants him fired with just a little over a year left on his contract. Moments later, unaware of what Van Gundy had said, Howard suddenly appeared and put his arm around his coach, only to deny the confirmation outright.
Whatever happens at the end of the season is not under my control, Howard said. I am a player for the Magic. I am not the GM. I am not (owner) Rich DeVos. I am not (president) Alex Martins. That is not my job. I haven't said anything to anybody about anything.
ESPN.com reported before March's trade deadline that Orlando's front office had given Howard the power to determine the fates of Van Gundy and general manager Otis Smith at the end of the season if he agreed not to opt out of his contract. Indeed, Howard decided against opting out and becoming a free agent after this season. At the same time, he has said he does not want the responsibility of holding Smith and Van Gundy's fates in his hands.
It's tough to know whether Van Gundy or Howard is telling the truth. However, if Van Gundy's confirmation turns out to be true, that means he is on the hot seat. Howard's early termination fiasco and the Magic's current four-game losing streak only serve to strengthen that sentiment, even if the team is fifth in the Eastern Conference at 32-22.
But if Van Gundy does leave, whenever that may be, there could already be a handful of high-profile names waiting at the Magic's doorstep.
Knicks legend and former center Patrick Ewing, who is an assistant coach for the Orlando Magic and has been for the past five seasons, told the New York Post that he is interested in becoming the head coach of a franchise that has a vacancy sooner than later. Ewing would make the most sense here because he knows the team system and can connect with Howard from the perspective of a center.
Another potential candidate is Larry Brown, who last coached for the Charlotte Bobcats in 2010. He has taken an NBA-record eight different teams to the playoffs, so he makes sense experience-wise.
Other candidates include Kentucky head coach John Calipari, although he has stated that he doesn't want to coach in the NBA anytime soon, and Stan's brother Jeff, whose name has also been mentioned as a potential candidate for the New York Knicks head coach position.
With 12 games to go for Orlando, it doesn't seem likely that Van Gundy would be let go right now. And, despite such a lackluster roster, the Magic look like a playoff team barring an epic collapse. So, as a result, how fast Van Gundy exits will perhaps squarely depend on just how far the Magic go in this upcoming postseason.