ORLANDO, Fla.— One day after Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy disclosed All-Star center Dwight Howard wanted him fired, the two agreed it was time to move forward and focus on the team’s play on the court.
“There’s nothing for me to say,” Howard said at practice Friday. “We just have to play basketball. That’s the only thing that matters.”
Van Gundy started a circus Thursday morning when he revealed he was told by high-ranking team officials of Howard’s request. Howard walked up and hugged Van Gundy during that media scrum, unaware what Van Gundy had just said. After the coach walked away, Howard was blindsided that reporters knew the truth about his firing request.
Hours later, the Magic lost their fifth consecutive game, 96-80 to the New York Knicks, and dropped to sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
Van Gundy spoke to reporters for more than 30 minutes after practice Friday, with most of the questions focusing on his relationship with Howard. Van Gundy used the term “irrelevant” more than a dozen times.
“I answered the question honestly and let’s move on,” Van Gundy said. “That was my only intention.
“At least there’s no more speculation. It’s not going to go back and forth. It happened. To me, it’ll go a day or two and then people are off of it, rather than it hanging out there and people bringing it up again.”
Van Gundy said his main point Thursday wasn’t that Howard wanted him fired, but that it doesn’t matter that Howard wants him fired.
“I don’t really regret doing it,” Van Gundy said. “It’s the speculation. Everybody’s sort of trying to massage the situation without saying anything, and I don’t know, to me it’s always easier to be honest and move on.”
Howard’s call for Van Gundy’s job didn’t just happen – it’s been an ongoing issue. But now it’s out in the open and a distraction as the Magic prepare to take on the play host to Philadelphia 76ers tonight.
Has the drama changed things between Van Gundy and Howard?
“It wasn’t awkward last night,” Van Gundy said. “It wasn’t awkward today. It wasn’t any different than it was two days ago, three days ago, two weeks ago, three weeks ago or anything else.”
Howard said he and Van Gundy agreed to keep everything between them.
“We keep that in the family,” Howard said. “We keep that between each other and the locker room.”
When Howard and Van Gundy met with Magic GM Otis Smith on Thursday to clear the air, they agreed to co-exist the rest of the season and put the team first. They also agreed that beyond this season doesn’t matter – all of the focus is on these final 11 games and the playoffs.
“We’re capable of getting through anything,” Howard said. “Right now the leader is being attacked from all angles, and it’s my job to stay strong for the team and not allow anything to break my spirit or who I am as a person and a player.”