This column was originally going to be a convincing piece as to why Maurice Cheeks (full disclosure: my favorite player of all time) deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
Then Stan Van Gundy decided enough was enough and exposed for all of us Dwight Howard’s true character – a selfish brat whose childish demands and indecision make him utterly impossible.
When this mess in the Magic Kingdom shakes out sometime in May, Van Gundy will be unemployed, because that’s what happens in the NBA. He doesn’t seem too upset by that looming probability.
Moments after blowing the whistle on Howard – revealing that the spoiled superstar, in fact, has called for the coach’s head on a stick – Van Gundy offered up this gem Thursday.
“I’m the coach until they decide I’m not the coach,” he said. “It’s 12:02 right now. If they want to fire me at 12:05, I’ll go home and find something to do. I’ll have a good day.”
Van Gundy’s conviction about his future happiness almost certainly is tied to the fact that he no longer will be part of an entire franchise being held hostage by Howard, whose unlikability is now so pronounced he has unseated LeBron James as the NBA’s resident villain.
Despite a recent five-game losing streak – the longest of Van Gundy’s five-year tenure in Orlando – the Magic remain firmly entrenched as a playoff team. They are there because of the coach, who in a blur of a season with no teaching time has somehow held together a locker room with bungee cords and duct tape.
Hedo Turkoglu, whose best years came in his first stint with the Magic as a playmaking forward, swears by Van Gundy. So does Ryan Anderson, who is having the best season of his career as a dead-eye stretch-4. And Jameer Nelson appreciates Van Gundy well beyond the 94 by 50 rectangle.
“I love Stan as a coach,” Nelson said. “Since he’s been here he’s helped my career. Helped tremendously. He’s a great person.”
Most of Van Gundy’s players like him because he puts them in positions to succeed and help the team win. The media likes Van Gundy because he is not afraid to voice his opinion and does so with a sarcastic wit that allows stories to write themselves.
But independent of basketball, we should all like Van Gundy because his verbal colander has bigger holes than most of the rest of us. He does not bite his tongue, speak disingenuously or couch his comments. He is honest and truthful and real. What you see is what you get, and that is why we should like him.
As Nelson said, he is a great person, someone you would want as a friend.
Compare Van Gundy to Howard, who has (a) spoken in circles about his personal demands; (b) insulted our intelligence with disingenuous statements or outright lies, such as the whopper where he said he really didn’t understand all of the circumstances of opting out; (c) changed his mind more frequently than a woman at a shoe sale, and expected everyone impacted to kind of just go with the flow; (d) repeatedly refused to answer when offered the chance to explain his convoluted thought process; and (e) used his considerable influence to put his sense of satisfaction before everyone else, with no regard for their well-being.
Is that a great person? Someone you want as a friend?
Van Gundy also rides his players, accentuates the negative more than the positive, whines a bit too much for one’s liking and is a generation older than all of his players and most NBA fans, so he comes off as a curmudgeon.
Howard wears Superman outfits, smiles and jokes a lot, and does silly impersonations. He even does one of Van Gundy, garnering cheap laughter at the expense of his boss. But Howard is 26, so he comes off as gregarious.
But the truth is that the all of the Magic’s issues this season can be directly attributed to Howard and the Ringling Bros. atmosphere he has created, while much of their success can be credited to Van Gundy, who works much harder at his job than Howard does at his and should be commended, not canned.
In the real world, prima donnas like Howard are sent packing, with good riddance.
In the NBA world, the petulant children are in charge.
TRIVIA: Deron Williams owns or shares the single-game highs this season for both points (57) and assists (20). Who is the only player in NBA history to do that in a single season? Answer below.
THE END OF CIVILIZATION AS WE KNOW IT: Washington Wizards rookie forward Chris Singleton spent $10,000 on last week’s Mega Millions lottery drawing that had a top prize of $640 million, explaining that he otherwise would have been “blowing (the money) in the clubs.”
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Sacramento Kings forward DeMarcus Cousins, after being told that Clippers forward Blake Griffin downplayed the physical nature of their recent matchup:
“That’s what Blake is going to say because he’s in LA, where actors belong. And he’s an actor.”
LINE OF THE WEEK: Andrew Bynum, LA Lakers at LA Clippers, April 4: 39 minutes, 13-20 FGs, 10-12 FTs, eight rebounds, four blocks, one steal, 36 points in a 113-108 win. Just when everyone was about to give up on Bynum due to recent immaturity issues, he stepped up in a huge game that could go a long way toward the Lakers securing the Pacific Division. And he did it on a bum ankle.
LINE OF THE WEAK: Jimmer Fredette, Sacramento vs. Phoenix, April 3: 13 minutes, 0-6 FGs, 0-5 3-pointers, one rebound, one assist, zero points in a 109-100 loss. It was the rookie’s seventh donut of the season and third against the Suns.
GAMES OF THE WEEK: New York at Milwaukee, April 11 and Phoenix at Houston, April 13. There are plenty of intriguing matchups, including several among the league’s elite. But none of those have as much as stake as these two contests, which should loom large in determining the final postseason berth in each conference. In the East, the Knicks have the upper hand in the standings, but the Bucks will have the tiebreaker if they win. In the West, the Suns are trying to make a late push against a very demanding schedule.
GAME OF THE WEAK: Charlotte at Cleveland, April 10. The Bobcats have lost 11 in a row. The Cavaliers have dropped nine of 10. And Kyrie Irving is sidelined. Yawn.
TRILLION WATCH: Two monstrous trillions were barely avoided as Orlando’s Chris Duhon had just an assist in 13 minutes on Sunday and New Jersey’s DeShawn Stevenson had just a turnover in 10 minutes on Tuesday. Stevenson had the week’s “best” effort with a 4 trillion Friday, well off Quincy Pondexter’s season-high 11 trillion.
TWO MINUTES: When the Bulls lost to Oklahoma City on Sunday and Houston on Monday, it preserved one of the longest-running trends in NBA history. No team has ever gone an entire season without losing consecutive games at least once. Even more astounding is that no team has ever gone 100 games over two seasons without dropping two in a row. Chicago had gone 86 games since Feb. 5-7, 2011, the second-longest streak ever. The longest belongs to the Utah Jazz, who went 95 games between consecutive losses from Nov. 18-20, 1997 to March 19-21, 1999. The streak ended with overtime road losses at Charlotte and Detroit. During the streak, however, Utah did lose three in a row to Chicago in the 1998 Finals. … Is there a bigger drop-off at any team’s position than New Jersey’s point guard, where Sundiata Gaines replaces Deron Williams? I can’t think of one, but if you can, put it in the comments section. … Clippers guard Randy Foye lit up the Mavericks on Monday for a franchise record-tying eight 3-pointers, and Dallas coach Rick Carlisle wasn’t pleased. “I was waiting for somebody to knock (Foye) down, do something. We just didn’t do it,” Carlisle said. The coach took the blame for his team’s passive play, but that really is on the players, who just let Foye continue to run free and fire away. … Remember Tyreke Evans’ rookie 2009-10 season, when he was being compared – at least statistically – to Oscar Robertson and LeBron James? Virtually all of his numbers have been in decline as he has dealt with injuries and position changes over the last two seasons. The argument used to be whether Evans was better suited at point guard or shooting guard, but since rookie Isaiah Thomas was installed as Sacramento’s starting point on Feb. 19, Evans has been playing small forward. “I still put him in a position to be a playmaker,” Kings coach Keith Smart said. “He’s a small forward with point guard skills.” Evans has had some struggles with the new position but seems to be getting the hang of it. In 23 games since making the move, he is averaging 16.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists while shooting a shade under 50 percent. “I’m trying to get used to it,” Evans said. “It’s up to me to be aggressive and to keep attacking. When I rebound, I just get a head start and just kind of open up things because they close the paint.” The bigger issues are on the defensive end, where the 6-6 Evans often finds himself overmatched against small forwards such as lengthy Kevin Durant and Shawn Marion and burly bulls Caron Butler and Metta World Peace. …In three games immediately after Kobe Bryant missed his first 15 shots and finished 3-of-21 from the field, the NBA scoring leader averaged 31.7 points on 62 percent shooting (39-of-63), including 8-of-14 from 3-point range. “It’s always interesting to me to hear people talk after a game like that,” Bryant said. “The amount of idiots that live out here after 16 years baffle me. I guess people just get dumber over the years.” … Since arriving in Miami, LeBron James has taken plenty of criticism – most of it justified – for his passive play down the stretch of games. That wasn’t the case in Tuesday’s win vs. Philadelphia, in which he scored 41 points, including 14 straight for the Heat in the final period. James’ disposition likely was impacted by the absence of the injured Dwyane Wade, who often shares the ball in crunch time. The Heat are 9-1 without Wade this season, and in those games, James has averaged 30.7 points – nearly 5 ppg higher than he does when Wade is playing. …Kevin McHale has been a player, coach, GM and analyst for more than 30 years. His Rockets are 20-8 at home and 9-17 on the road, and he admits he is boggled by the NBA’s home-court advantage, which is by far the most overwhelming of any of the four major pro sports. “I never understood that,” he said. “Baskets are 10 feet high and the court’s 94 feet. I’ve never seen a fan score a point yet.” McHale was a member of the 1985-86 Boston Celtics, who set a record by going 40-1 at home. … At the trading deadline, we said to keep an eye on Jordan Crawford, who basically was handed the Wizards’ starting shooting guard slot when Nick Young was dealt to the Clippers. In his first game after the trade, Crawford managed just six points. On Thursday, he had another stinker with nine points on 2-of-13 shooting. In 11 games in between, Crawford averaged 21.1 points on nearly 47 percent shooting. … It would have been easy to point to Oklahoma City’s home loss to Memphis on Monday as a trap game, coming between highly anticipated showdowns with Chicago (home win) and Miami (road loss). But the truth is the Grizzlies forced the Thunder to walk the ball up the floor all night and allowed just two fast-break points on a pair of free throws by Russell Westbrook with just 1:12 to play. … To all of the folks who lose it whenever Blake Griffin has another one of his posterizing dunks – like the one he had on Pau Gasol on Wednesday night – Chris Paul has some perspective for you. “It was exciting,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we lost. Who cares?”
Trivia Answer: Wilt Chamberlain had 68 points and 21 assists in separate games in the 1967-68 season. … Happy 72nd Birthday, John Havlicek. … When the Knicks visited Orlando this week, it must have been nice to be the second-most dysfunctional team in town.
Chris Bernucca is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear Wednesday and Sunday. You can follow him on Twitter.