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Magic players divided on Van Gundy, so he made calculated play

Apr 5, 2012, 4:57 PM EDT

Magic head coach Van Gundy reacts during Game 3 of their NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference basketball game against Hawks in Atlanta Reuters

Dwight Howard may want what he sees as a little ball of negativity — namely Stan Van Gundy — out of the way, but that’s not what all the other Magic players want. They are a house divided, something that will mean a quick exit from the playoffs.

So, rather than have secret agendas, Van Gundy decided to go public in about the biggest way possible in hopes of getting the team to move past this.

The fact the Magic are a house divided is clear, the theory on why Van Gundy went public comes from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo.

The Magic locker room has been divided for most of the season – most siding with Van Gundy, some with Howard, sources say – and it had reached a critical mass with Howard sitting out losses this week to Denver and Detroit.

“The organization has allowed Dwight to set up the coach,” a league source close to management and the coach said. “They have to have a reason to blame someone. If they win, and he gets fired, everyone will know it’s on the player. Losing gives everyone the out when the season’s over, especially Howard.”

A number of Magic players have had their best years under Van Gundy. Hedo Turkoglu was a mess everywhere else but Van Gundy used him as a playmaker and he led the Magic to the finals, Ryan Anderson is having a career season as a stretch four, J.J. Redick has flourished in his system.

So it’s no shock a number of players told Brian K. Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel they backed Howard. Here are Schmitz’s tweets:

Ryan Anderson on Stan Van Gundy: “I love Stan. I think he’s a great coach for us.”

Hedo Turkoglu on Stan Van Gundy: “I want Stan to be my coach forever.”

One player’s comments to me: “Our problem isn’t Stan (Van Gundy). We got one guy who wants to run the show.”

Magic player to me: “I know Dwight will be gone after next season.”

Frankly, Dwight Howard owes a lot of his success to Van Gundy. Howard is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year because Van Gundy set up a defense that funnels penetration to Howard and has him shut it down (something Howard does well). Howard gets room to operate on offense because Van Gundy put in a system with a lot of shooters around him.

At this point, the only question is will Van Gundy be gone during the season or after the playoffs. Either way, Howard had tried to keep the blood off his hands, but now that is impossible. He will get castigated for this, no matter what happens.

Either way, Van Gundy made the smart play. Wojnarowski explains it well.

Van Gundy had a plan here. He understood that these Magic, losers of four straight, couldn’t go on this way. He wanted it out there: Yes, I’m gone. So stop tanking. Stop trying to get me fired. When the season is over, you’ll get your wish. For now, let’s play. Let’s try to win.

“It was that,” a source close to him said, “or they just fire him, and it’s over.”

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