ORLANDO - A well-placed Orlando Magic source claims center Dwight Howard has asked the team to fire coach Stan Van Gundy. The well-placed source? Stan Van Gundy.
“I know he has,’’ Van Gundy said Thursday, in a moment of jaw-dropping candor hours before the Magic suffered a listless 96-80 loss to the New York Knicks.
Asked how he knew that the long-circulating rumor was true, Van Gundy said: “I was told it was true by people in our management. So, you know, right from the top.’’
It was an extraordinary disclosure, and it led to a strange and awkward scene when Howard - unaware what Van Gundy had said - appeared moments later and denied he had ever made the demand.
“I said that?’’ Howard, sounding incredulous, told reporters. “Who did I say that to? I’m asking you, since you guys got so many sources.’’
The coach just said he heard it directly from management, Howard was told.
“I didn’t hear anything,’’ Howard said.
The tension between Howard, the Magic’s franchise player, and Van Gundy is well documented and has been percolating for years. But it was never this out in the open, and the fallout has yet to be truly felt.
The Magic played the first half of this season under the cloud of Howard’s trade demand, but still remained a force in the East. To everyone’s surprise, Howard rescinded the demand at the trading deadline and agreed to pick up his option for next season. The decision sparked immediate speculation that Howard would get his wish and Van Gundy would be ousted before then.
Van Gundy has a year left on his contract. If dismissed, he would be one of the top coaches on the market this summer.
Thursday’s bizarre chain of events followed a report by an Orlando television station, WKMG, that Howard had informed the team he would sign a long-term extension only if Van Gundy was fired. The report was denied by the team’s owner, Rich DeVos.
But when the subject came up Thursday, Van Gundy chose a different route.
Asked if he thought the Magic might heed Howard’s request and fire him, Van Gundy said, “I have no idea.’’
He added, “But I ain’t worried about that.’’
The scene turned surreal when a smiling Howard walked through the news media scrum, sidled up to Van Gundy and put his arm around his shoulders, saying, “Yeah, Stan, we’re not worried about that, right?’’
Van Gundy, looking fidgety and uncomfortable, soon extracted himself from the group, leaving Howard to address the reports, apparently unaware that Van Gundy had just confirmed them.