Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy and Dwight Howard did a superb job this week of focusing the NBA spotlight on the Magic, when everybody should be engrossed by an intriguing playoff race — lockout season or not.
Van Gundy’s revelation during a post-shootaround interview that Howard has been trying to get him fired since the start of the season created more soap opera-like drama than President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.
Come to think of it, the last time I saw two people look so completely awkward together on television was when Bill and Hillary Clinton made their first public appearance after the sex scandal story broke.
If you don’t remember, it’s fair to say Mrs. Clinton was not amused.
In Orlando, the stuff hit the fan when Van Gundy was talking about the Magic’s upcoming game against the New York Knicks.
When asked about his future with the team, Van Gundy said Howard had wanted a new coach for months.
Where did Van Gundy hear such a rumor?
“I was told it was true by people in our management,” he said. “So right from the top.”
Unaware that Van Gundy has just told the world about his dirty little secret, Howard suddenly appeared at his coach’s side and put his arm around Van Gundy.
With a smile on his face and television cameras still rolling, Howard asked, ‘Stan, you’re not worried about that, right?”
Everyone who witnessed the bizarre moment was stunned, which is understandable.
Suppose Benedict Arnold and George Washington showed up at the same news conference and — suddenly — B.A. tries to lighten the mood by throwing his arm around G-Dub.
See what I mean?
Van Gundy quickly tried to extricate himself from the latest carnival ride in the Magic Kingdom — Coach Quicksand — by telling Howard, “That’s what I just said. We’ve got to be worried about winning games.”
Van Gundy then made a quick exit, suggesting the media “talk to him now.”
When Howard learned Van Gundy had squealed about his long-standing wish for a coaching change, he was apparently furious.
One story on his reaction even suggested that Howard felt like Van Gundy had thrown him under the bus.
If true, of course, that’s like the dog that bit the mailman complaining about how his lunch tasted.
On Wednesday night, the situation took another strange-if-predictable twist during the Magic-Knicks game.
Howard, looking as interested as a fourth-grader on Friday afternoon, finished with eight points and eight rebounds in 40 minutes during the Knicks’ 96-80 victory.
Orlando fans booed.
Transplanted Knicks fans cheered.
He sat on the bench in the closing moments, smiling and urging each fan base to get louder by waving his arms in the air while everyone awaits his next Magic trick: making a coach disappear.
Around the NBA
Thunder coach likes young Jazz
If the Jazz slip into the playoffs, they will likely meet San Antonio or Oklahoma City in the first round. It’s an unappealing prospect for Utah, although Thunder coach Scott Brooks likes the Jazz. “They are playing good basketball. Those young guys are starting to play well and coach [Tyrone] Corbin, the way he has developed them, you just don’t get better overnight. Being a young team, the work they put in early this season is paying off.”
Jazz have advantage inside?
If Oklahoma City can be exploited, it could be inside, where they use Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison. The Jazz counter with Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. Said Brooks, “Favors and Kanter, those young bigs, are really improved. You have to pay attention to them or they can affect the game on the offensive glass. Favors runs the court and attacks the basket as well as any big. He’s so athletic.”