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Schmeelk: Firing Van Gundy Was A Desperate And Futile Move

Stan Van Gundy (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Stan Van Gundy (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

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By John Schmeelk
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As the NBA lockout played out last year, one of the calls out of the ownership ranks was that they had to return power to the owner side. They were tired of the way Carmelo Anthony had basically held three organizations hostage last year by demanding a trade. Owners felt that the inmates were running the asylum, and it had to stop for the betterment of the league.

Since then, Chris Paul forced his way out of New Orleans via trade. Carmelo Anthony got Mike D’Antoni fired. And now Dwight Howard has orchestrated the elimination of Stan Van Gundy and Otis Smith from his little dictatorship down in Orlando. It doesn’t matter what the rules in the CBA say; one truth will always hold in the NBA: The stars run the show. It was true yesterday, it is true today and it will be true in the future.

Tom Haberstroh made the point on Twitter yesterday. He said that there’s nothing more valuable in the NBA than a megastar on a max contract. That’s true, as someone like LeBron James or Chris Paul can turn around a franchise instantaneously. But are Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony megastars? Are they guys that you can hand the keys to your franchise to and know they will captain it on the right course?

Carmelo Anthony is the same guy that has only gotten out of the first round of the playoffs once, and openly admitted that he wasn’t playing with maximum effort for Mike D’Antoni. Dwight Howard is the same guy that changed his mind about 19 times in a three-day span near the trade deadline as to whether or not he wanted to activate his one-year player option for Orlando. He’s also the guy that has stated that free-throw shooting isn’t that important, and has failed to improve in that area over the course of his career. He can’t even get the ball down the stretch of games in the post due to his poor free-throw shooting.

The Cavaliers once fired Mike Brown, hoping it could coax LeBron James into staying put. How’d that work out? The easy thing to do for any owner or general manager is to side with the superstar. Fans buy tickets to see them play and they make your team better immediately. Losing a superstar for nothing is the surest way to go from a playoff team to a lottery one that can’t get any fans in the seats. Ownership particularly hates that.

That’s what Orlando decided to do in firing Stan Van Gundy, one of the best coaches in the NBA. The franchise did it to appease a big child that can’t even make up his own mind over what he wants. Once Dwight Howard leaves Orlando, which he will via trade or free agency next summer, they will be pining for Stan Van Gundy to come back to coach their team. The fact that Dwight Howard wants a great coach like him out should tell management all they need to know about Howard. Do you want to latch your franchise to someone who doesn’t want to play for someone with passion and demands perfection from his players? At least Carmelo Anthony reacted well to Mike Woodson, far more of a disciplinarian than Mike D’Antoni.

Otis Smith is another story, as he made a number of moves that were questionable. Giving Rashard Lewis max money caused a chain reaction that prevented the Magic from surrounding Dwight Howard with enough talent to win a title. There are few mistakes bigger than rewarding a merely good player with a maximum contract. It sets a ceiling for a team that’s far too low.

No one doubts Dwight Howard’s talent. He’s the best center in an NBA that’s bereft of good players at that position. The Nets should pursue him heavily. The Magic should hire a good GM and coach, but both need to understand that their eventual job will be replacing Dwight Howard and starting from scratch, and not surrounding him with talent. His time in Orlando will be short, and then everyone will wonder why Stan Van Gundy is no longer the coach there.

SCHMEELK’S SNIPPETS

- I understand Knicks fans that are pining for Stan Van Gundy since he is such a good coach. But he will literally last as Knicks coach for ten minutes when he violates James Dolan’s media policy in his opening press conference. It will happen that quickly. He just won’t fit into the culture that the Knicks have over at the very political Madison Square Garden. Besides, doesn’t everyone want to see Jeff and Stan Van Gundy on the same broadcast team for one season? Mike Breen’s head might actually explode. Now that’s GREAT television.

- I admire Mike D’Antoni for continuing to take the high road in his interview with Sports Illustrated. Say what you want about him as a coach, but he proved to be nothing but a stand-up guy in his time with the Knicks. He has had multiple chances to tear down Carmelo Anthony but has decided not to. His offense is still the way to win basketball games, by playing unselfish, moving the ball and getting out in transition. If anyone is paying attention, that’s how the Spurs are winning in San Antonio.

Should the Knicks pursue Stan Van Gundy now that he’s out on the open market? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…