For months the Orlando Magic have been trudging through the aftermath of a preseason trade request by Dwight Howard that sapped the life out of the franchise as internal team issues quickly affected the product on the floor.
Now after one of the most tumultuous seasons in their history, they made the first in what promises to be a huge offseason shake-up. The Magic fired coach Stan Van Gundy on Monday and agreed to part ways with general manager Otis Smith, severing ties with two of the architects of one of the most successful runs in team history.
Smith and Van Gundy’s relationship with Howard was the centerpiece of drama the team faced all season and following their second straight first-round playoff exit, CEO Alex Martins said the shift was warranted.
“It’s time for a new leadership and a new approach,’’ Martins said at a news conference.
Orlando went 37-29 in the regular season but was bounced in five games by Indiana after a rash of late-season injuries that included Howard’s back surgery. Orlando was 5-12 without him.
In early April, Van Gundy claimed top-ranking team officials had told him that Howard had asked management to fire him as a condition of the center signing a long-term contract beyond 2013. Howard denied it.
Martins addressed that dispute directly, saying, “At no time during that time did Dwight ask me to have Stan fired.’’
Van Gundy coached the Magic for five seasons. He finished with a 259-135 record, going 31-28 in the playoffs. Smith departs after six years. He was the architect of Magic teams that made it to the playoffs in each of those seasons, winning the Eastern Conference championship in 2009.
Heat enjoy the ride
On the plane ride home from Indiana, Miami guard Dwyane Wade watched a LeBron James highlight tape. It was otherwise known as Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Heat were still marveling Monday at James’s effort the previous day in Indiana, when the NBA’s reigning MVP had 40 points, 18 rebounds, and 9 assists - “video game-like,’’ was how Wade described it - to help his team knot its East series with the Pacers at two games apiece. Game 5 is Tuesday night in Miami, and the Heat know they probably can’t expect James to fill the box score that way again anytime soon. After all, no one had done that in a playoff game since Elgin Baylor, 51 years ago.
But if nothing else, the home-court advantage is back with the Heat, who trailed by 10 points in the third quarter Sunday before the game - and maybe the series - swung Miami’s way, with James doing the conducting.
“I’ve played in this league for nine years and I’ve seen some amazing things,’’ Wade said. “But I’ve never really played with a guy where I’m amazed at some of the things he can do. I’m used to not being the one being in awe. Some of the things he does, I’m like, ‘How did he just do that?’ ’’