As if anyone needed further reminder why the NBA is the ultimate players league, where one guy can make or break a franchise, it was brought to light by Stan Van Gundy.
No coach is more respected, no coach is less politically correct and ego driven than Stan the Man, the guy who should have oversaw Miami’s title run in 2006 had it not been for Pat Riley’s ego getting in the way.
In Orlando, the ego is embodied in Dwight Howard, this generation’s most athletically gifted big man who has yet to figure out what it takes to be ultimate professional many had envisioned when he went directly from high school in Atlanta to the NBA as the first overall pick.
This is by no means a P.J. Carlesimo/Latrell Sprewell disaster and nor is it comparable to Magic Johnson showing Paul Westhead the door, a move that would usher in the dawn of the Showtime Lakers.
In many ways, it’s very similar to what unfolded in Utah when Jerry Sloan called it quits when Deron Williams refused to buy into Sloan’s way on how to play the game.
Howard has never come across as being savvy, a guy who likes to joke around and let his handlers do the dirty work behind closed doors.
A player of Howard’s stature has friends in the media business, the kind you often see on television who present one side of an untold story to curry favours.
One thing about Van Gundy is that he doesn’t coddle, but he’s no fool and he read the writing on the wall way back when this lockout-shortened season began that Howard wanted out and that one of the few ways to keep Howard in Orlando was a scenario that saw Van Gundy leave.
What’s amazing has been how Van Gundy has been able to coach with so many distractions, so few legitimate pieces and this albatross in the form of Howard.
As ugly and as awkward as it’s been, it promises to get worse, a relationship that can’t be mended, a team going off the rails and more importantly a franchise that will soon have to make some difficult decisions to salvage a future that looks very bleak.
Van Gundy has to be sacrificed, his shelf life expired, and move on either to a new team or move to television for a season to regroup and regain his sanity.
Howard must be traded this off-season because under no circumstance can the Magic allow his free-agency status to once again poison the team.
GM Otis Smith must also move on, his inability to find pieces in recent years the most damning example of an executive who has lost his touch.
In a word, the Magic kingdom must be purged and no one should be spared.
How fitting that Hedo Turkoglu, of all people, should undergo surgery for facial fractures at almost the precise moment the Howard/Van Gundy drama would reach its high point, or more to the point low point.
ODUM’S BAD ODOUR
Had Lamar Odom decided to play basketball and not allow his ego and emotion to get in the way, he’d still be a Laker. When he heard his name mentioned in the deal involving Chris Paul that got nixed by the NBA, Odom wanted out of L.A. When he got his wish, Odom basically pouted in Dallas and spent more time lamenting his lot than embracing his new challenge.
Owner Mark Cuban tried to appeal to Odom, huddled with Odom, but ultimately nothing could appeal to Odom, who is now no longer a member of the Mavs.
Players weren’t prepared to talk about Odom’s status and neither was head coach Rick Carlisle when it was obvious something was amiss following last Saturday’s setback in Memphis, where a disengaged Odom played a little more than four insignificant minutes. By parting ways, the Mavs did the right thing, the only course of action, finally realizing that Odom could not be emotionally rehabilitated.
In 50 games with Dallas, where he averaged 20.5 minutes, Odom posted career-low averages in scoring (6.6 points per game), rebounds (4.2) and shooting percentage (35.2).
AROUND THE RIM
Whether it’s his ability to make free throws or improve his jumper, there’s plenty of room for improvement for the L.A. Clippers’ Blake Griffin, who continues to be known for his dunks. One area that will get exposed when the post-season rolls around is Griffin’s defence, where he doesn’t exactly box out.
“I don’t think I’m as bad of a defender as some people try to peg me as,” Griffin said. “But I know I have a lot of work to do. The effort is there. I think our coaching staff knows the effort is there. I’ve got a lot of room to improve, like I’ve said.
“At the same time, I don’t think I’m as bad as people say. People try to say I play zero defence, which I personally think is not true. For me, a lot times I’m the hardest critic on myself.” ... In the NBA, defence and rebounding are the cornerstones to any deep playoff run. With the finish line now in sight, the Clippers are battling for home court in the post-season. A dream matchup would see the Lakers and Clippers, a series that will favour the Lakers because of their rebounding and size in the frontcourt.
THIS IS MELO’S HOUSE
Every once in a while, Carmelo Anthony produces one of those sublime performances only players of his ilk can create.
And when he does, you begin to understand why Mike D’Antoni had to be sacrificed to make way for Anthony, why Jeremy Lin had to get fewer touches, why the Knicks will live and die through Anthony’s ability.
In the NBA, there’s only a handful of truly elite scorers and Anthony is one of them.
In the NBA, virtually every team has a guy capable of going off on any given night because someone has to score, but these scorers aren’t necessarily equipped to handle the demands and attention when the spotlight is at its brightest.
Anthony is in that exclusive group that includes guys such as Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki, a guy who makes the Knicks a tough out as New York continues its run since Mike Woodson was installed as interim head coach.
After hearing boos at MSG, Melo was feted by cheers as he poured in 43 points in an overtime win over Chicago on Sunday.
‘’This was a playoff game,’’ began Melo. “We have a chance, we might play these guys in the playoffs if we keep doing what we’re doing and get that seed, so this was a big statement game for us.”
At one point, Melo yelled: “This is my house!’’
THOMAS WILL RESURFACE — MAYBE IN NEW YORK
Not a lot has been written about Isiah Thomas’ ouster from Florida International University, just the latest in Thomas’ basketball road.
What we know is that Thomas will resurface, his talents as an evaluator of basketball talent unsurpassed.
In the right situation, Thomas is a valued asset, as long as he’s given a leash shorter than a Raptors’ win streak, a defined role that can’t be questioned or expanded.
While there will always be baggage no matter the situation, the fact remains that Thomas knows basketball.
Not many people know how to play the game away from the court better than Thomas, whose biggest enemy remains himself.
Simply put, he’s never satisfied, but the more he gets knocked down the more he’ll bounce back and prove people wrong.
As long as James Dolan is part of Knicks ownership, the possibility of Thomas returning to the Big Apple will always exist.
At FIU, Thomas did not accept a salary in his first season.
He had two years remaining on a five-year deal worth $1.1 million. The program will pay Thomas his final two years.
But with Thomas, it’s never been about money.
CELTICS ANYTHING BUT DEAD
If there’s one team no team wants to play in the playoffs, it’s the Boston Celtics, a team written for dead as too old and too vulnerable.
When GM Danny Ainge rolled the dice and stood pat by refusing to break up Boston’s Hall of Fame Big 3, Ainge took plenty of heat.
With the Celtics now rising in the standings, Ainge’s image has taken a turn for the better.
“As far as trying to get better now, trust me, we looked at everything,” Ainge said. “We know what we have, and tried to put the right pieces around them.
“The problem was that to get something good we would have had to give up something good and that would have meant getting weaker in one spot to get better in another.”
As the injuries mounted and cries for change grew louder, a complete rebuild in Beantown was being encouraged.
“I’m not even sure what blow it up means,” Ainge said. “You’ve got to take every deal as they are proposed and you’ve got to be creative to try to initiate deals that you like and are beneficial to your franchise.
“And if you can’t do them and you don’t want to do them, you don’t do them. It’s that simple. It’s not a philosophy.
“Blow it up, to me, means you’re going to just sell off everybody and everything you’ve got and start over. We weren’t going to do that. You always want to help your team and add talent, but the first thing you have to make sure of is that you don’t hurt yourself in another area.”
* New York at Milwaukee, Wednesday
As playoff positioning heats up, neither team can afford a loss, especially the Bucks.
* Miami at Chicago, Thursday
Statement game for Heat, a team that has wilted on the road, but wins at home.
* Houston at Denver, Sunday
The wild West gets more compelling with each passing week and with tips such as this.