Orlando Magic point guard Jameer Nelson understands the questions won’t cease but he can only hope the drama does.
This has been a wearing season for the Magic, wondering about superstar center Dwight Howard’s long-term commitment to the team. Yet even as Howard has committed at least through the 2013 season, the drama only continues.
It hit its peak with Thursday’s unusual, even by NBA standards, press gathering, where coach Stan Van Gundy revealed that Howard wanted him fired. Van Gundy and Howard met with general manager Otis Smith, attempting to smooth out a situation that has nothing but hard edges. Still, the team insists it’s not the dysfunctional unit that is the perception to outsiders and probably plenty of insiders as well.
The Magic maintain that they can move on from this latest melodrama and become a factor in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Even Nelson, who is co-captain of this perceived sinking ship, admits that the latest episode wasn’t very typical, even by Magic standards.
“It was weird,” Nelson said following a morning shootaround before the Magic were to play the Philadelphia 76ers. “There is nothing you can do about it. It’s done and over with.”
He can only hope.
“The rest of the guys have moved on,” Nelson said.
One thing is for sure – the players want to move on from talking about this latest bizarre incident. Nelson was asked a simple question as to whether he and his teammates were forced to choose sides – coach or superstar?
“No, I am one of the leaders and captains of the team and it is not about me choosing sides,” he said. “It’s about me leading the team.”
So that means simply being an extension of the coach on the floor.
“Whatever game plan Stan puts out, I have to help execute to the best of my ability with these guys,” Nelson said.
The Magic has gone through a lengthy list of drama-filled incidents in this shortened season.
“This is just another chapter,” Nelson said.
The Magic had to put up with the daily speculation as to whether Howard would opt out of his contract or stay. He decided to stay at the last minute and is bound to the team through the 2012-13 season. Of course that same speculation will be rampant next season if there is no long-term commitment.
Anyway, that was kids stuff compared to this recent situation.
For his part, Howard was somewhat reflective in talking about the situation.
“You guys are making a big deal of it, making a scene,” Howard said. “He said what he said and it’s over with.
We are not going to allow the situation to keep us down. We have to come together on the court.”
The key question is whether Van Gundy and Howard can continue to have respect for one another after this latest episode.
“I think we have respect for each other regardless of whatever is being said,” Howard said. “As a coach, I have the utmost respect for Stan. He’s been a great coach for our team the last five years.”
When asked the same question about mutual respect, Van Gundy had a similar response: “Dwight Howard is one of the best players in this league and will go out and give us the great effort every night so there is no trouble in terms of respect on my side.
What is interesting is that the Magic have a chance to still turn things around. When Howard is on his game, the Magic pose a threat to any opponent, whether they are an underdog or not.
Yet, the Magic have more to deal with then sniping between the superstar and coach. Besides the Van Gundy-Howard dilemma, the Magic are battling injuries. In fact Howard himself has suffered from recent back spasms. Ryan Anderson has missed recent time with an ankle injury and Hidayet Turkoglu is expected to be out for three weeks following April 7 surgery for a facial fracture.
That said, with all the injuries and back-door politics, the Magic showed some heart by snapping a five-game losing streak with an 88-82 win at Philadelphia.
“This is the best I felt about this team the entire year,” Van Gundy said.
Orlando's head coach praised the team for overcoming quite a bit.
“We’ve had obviously, and I added to it, a tumultuous week and they fought for each other,” Van Gundy said. “It has nothing to do with me. They should be really proud about what they gave to each other tonight.”
He’s right and Howard led the way with 20 points and 22 rebounds. Whether Van Gundy lasts past this season isn’t the issue. The Magic truly believe that they can make some noise in the postseason.
“We have a good team and the opportunity to do something special,” Nelson said. “There is enough talent in this locker room for us to stick together no matter what and play the best games we can leading up to the playoffs and make a big push.”
And if it happens, the Magic will point to the win in Philadelphia.
“That was the best I felt about a win in a long time,” said JJ Redick, who had 19 points in the win over Philadelphia.
Redick reminded everybody that things change so fast even in a week’s time in the NBA.
“Obviously, if you win a few games in a row, there is some positivity in the air and things can turn around quickly for us,” Redick said.
So the Magic believe they have enough time and enough of a short-term memory to move on from SVG-Howard incident. They truly hope that the worst is behind them.