Magic Fire Coach Van Gundy, GM Smith Gone After First-Round Exit

The Orlando Magic fired coach Stan Van Gundy and said General Manager Otis Smith will not return following a season marked by a trade request by center Dwight Howard and a loss in the first round of the playoffs.

“It’s time for a new leadership and a new approach,” Magic Chief Executive Officer Alex Martins said at a news conference yesterday in Orlando, Florida. “We simply came to the decision that we were not on the right track.”

The moves came less than two weeks after the Magic’s season ended with a five-game loss to the Indiana Pacers in their best-of-seven National Basketball Association playoff series. Howard, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, missed the postseason after back surgery.

A six-time All-Star, Howard requested that the Magic trade him during the preseason and then agreed to stay with the team at this year’s trading deadline. He waived the early termination option in his contract that would have allowed him to end the deal after this season and remains under contract with the Magic through next season, when he’s set to make $19.5 million.

Van Gundy told reporters on April 5 that Howard asked management to have him dismissed. Howard denied Van Gundy’s claim and Martins said yesterday that Howard never asked for the coach to be fired.

“Let me say in no uncertain terms that Dwight did not want to be a part of this decision, did not want to make this decision and he never asked me to make this decision,” Martins said. “Yes, their relationship was a challenge, but Dwight Howard never asked me to fire Stan.”

Van Gundy, 52, has a 371-208 record in eight seasons with the Miami Heat and the Magic.

Playoff Record

He led Orlando to the playoffs in each of his five seasons with the team, including a spot in the NBA Finals in 2009. In his first four seasons after being chosen as Orlando’s head coach on June 7, 2007, Van Gundy directed the Magic to at least 50 wins per season.

Van Gundy told the Magic’s website in a text message that he’s “very proud” of what the team accomplished during his tenure and looks forward to whatever comes next.

The Magic went 37-29 in this lockout-shortened season and earned the sixth playoff place in the Eastern Conference. They had a 5-12 record without Howard, who was critical of Van Gundy’s vocal coaching style, saying it hurt team morale.

“Stan, in my opinion, prepared our team as good as any coach that I have ever been around in 25 years in the business,” Martins said. “But I also think that there’s another side to coaching.”

Three Division Titles

Smith became Orlando’s general manager in 2006 and took over as president of basketball operations in 2010. The Magic made the playoffs six straight years under Smith’s leadership, winning three division titles. They weren’t able to get out of the opening round of the playoffs the past two seasons.

“Our basketball operation has not gone in the right direction over the last two years,” Martins said. “It’s time for new leadership and a new voice with a different approach to building a championship operation. Making the playoffs is simply not good enough, and getting knocked out in the first round the last two years is unacceptable.”

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