The rebuilding has begun. Orlando is heading in a new direction. What that direction will be is hard to say. But the one thing that is clear is that the Magic are done with Stan Van Gundy and Otis Smith and everything they built the last five years.
There are a lot of retrospectives.
Many applauding the job that Van Gundy did and lamenting the circumstances that led to his firing (ultimately agreeing that it was time one way or another with how stale the Magic had gotten the last two years).
There are many also giving rightful criticism toward Otis Smith. After all, things were going swimmingly until his tinkering became too ruinous for chemistry and he depleted his assets and the team's talent level. A more full evaluation of Van Gundy and Smith's tenure will be coming in the following days.
The more pressing and immediate concern is the Magic's future. That is where the focus has honestly been since the beginning of the season and Dwight Howard announced his trade request. Even though he eventually waived his early termination option the feeling is that he has never really officially moved off his demand. He just believed in the team he was on or something.
In any case, Van Gundy and Smith's firing have only spurred on rumors for what is next for the Magic. At this point, all anything is are just rumors. We have hit the point of the season where everything is based on a whisper and an agenda. There is nothing concrete, no matter how much everyone from management to the fan base wants some finality entering next season.
And, again, it all revolves around Dwight Howard.
The way the rumor mill is swirling, it is sounding like the Magic are preparing to completely clear the deck -- coach, general manager AND star player.
That seems to be what many people think. Ken Berger of CBS Sports reports that the firing of Van Gundy and Smith does not necessarily mean that Howard is staying, much like retaining one or both of them would have meant that Howard was gone.
There were rumors circulating throughout the season that there was something of a rift between Van Gundy, Smith and management. The rumor was that Van Gundy and Smith were ready to move on from Howard and expected him traded by the deadline. In fact, there were some who believed that Smith was ready to pull the trigger on a deal that would have sent Howard to the Nets at one point. Obviously Alex Martins and Magic management had the final say and they elected to keep Howard at, seemingly, all costs.
I am sure Van Gundy airing the Magic's inner workings and dirty laundry virtually unprompted did not endear him to his bosses. And I am sure the bosses did not appreciate having their strategy disputed with their top basketball man. Otis Smith may actually have been doing his job right in trying to get the best deal for Howard in March or sooner. Who knows?
Now, it appears (if you believe certain reports) that Howard is still unsure of his future in Orlando.
Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com reports Howard still wants out of Orlando. What is more, a source told Chris Bernucca of SheridanHoops.com that Howard wants out of Orlando "more than ever." (h/t Evan Dunlap of Orlando Pinstriped Post)
Of course, Howard has yet to say anything more than the short comment-and-response interview he gave Ric Bucher of ESPN the Magazine. So, again, everything is just a rumor.
The franchise has thrown itself into another round of silly season where rumors and whispers rule the day. Only Alex Martins and the people in power really know what is going on at this point. And so the decision lies squarely with them.
The first task, as Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel pointed out, is to find a new general manager to spearhead the NBA Draft preparations and hire a new coach. The first task of the new general manager is to get a feel for what Dwight Howard wants and try to build a relationship that will hopefully keep him in a Magic uniform.
This might be why the Magic are looking for someone with championship experience and someone who has been around the NBA. The hope, it seems, is to instill confidence that the franchise is moving in the right direction.
No matter what is reported, Orlando has committed itself to keeping Howard in uniform. That was the long-stated goal and it was supported by the franchise's actions in talking to Howard and getting him to waive his early termination option. Even though the Magic appear unwilling to go through the will-he-won't-he drama of the 2012 season again, the goal is still to have Howard in a Magic uniform for a long time. Clearing up the rumors stated above is job one for the new general manager.
The question then becomes in the hiring process which general manager that fits the Magic's criteria would be willing to go through the rebuilding process if Dwight Howard elects to leave.
Donnie Walsh, a rumored candidate for the Magic's open general manager job, just left a tumultuous relationship with New York. Does he want to enter a potentially similar situation and build from the ground up in Orlando?
And what about the head coach? The Magic want someone who will take the team to a championship. But many of the coaches with that championship experience are not the kinds of coaches that typically relate well to players -- at least, not in the way that Dwight Howard seems to want. It would appear then, that a young coach like Brian Shaw who lacks experience could be on the way in.
That kind of a coach might be better suited to a rebuilding job then a "get us over the top" job. And what the Magic's ultimate goals are depends, of course, on what Dwight Howard wants to do.
There is a lot on the plate for whomever the Magic decide to hire for sure. The future is quite clearly at stake with the decisions the franchise is preparing to make.