ORLANDO FL - JANUARY 24: Head coach Stan Van Gundy of the Orlando Magic talks with Dwight Howard #12 during the game against the Detroit Pistons at Amway Arena on January 24 2011 in Orlando Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and or using this Photograph user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
The brilliance of Stan Van Gundy's power play is that he positioned himself as everything Dwight Howard is not.
In a way, it's amusing to see the public support for Stan Van Gundy after he took the unprecedented step of confirming rumors that Dwight Howard wanted him out as the Orlando Magic's head coach. These kinds of power plays happen all the time behind the scenes in the NBA. When the superstar wants the coach gone, the coach usually ends up being let go.
But it also makes perfect sense. As the old saying goes, perception is reality. In revealing the truth of the rumors, Van Gundy was capitalizing on the public perception of Howard and putting himself in a no-lose position. We now essentially think of Van Gundy as the anti-Howard, and that's exactly how Van Gundy wanted it.
The only thing that Van Gundy needed was a moment to strike. He said several weeks back that he didn't care about being fired, and I don't think he was bluffing. All along, Van Gundy had to know the reality -- while he may be fired, he wouldn't be unemployed for long. When you compile as impressive a record as Van Gundy has in Orlando (four 50-plus-win seasons with mediocre rosters outside of Howard, a 66-percent winning percentage), you immediately vault to the top of the coaching free-agent talent pool. That was going to happen this summer regardless, even with a deeper-than-usual applicant list.
Going by that logic, all Van Gundy needed was an opening to make his move. He couldn't just volunteer the information when Howard could have still been traded, because that would make him look petty. Howard could have used this as a reason to justify his trade demands. But when WKMG in Orlando put out this report after the deadline passed, citing "league sources," Van Gundy had his opening. As he said at the 1:41 mark of this video:
"Since everything came out yesterday, I'll be honest: you think about what you're going to be asked and how you're going to respond and the whole thing," Van Gundy said in the video. "The only thing I'm ever uncomfortable with is bullshit."
He was probably taking a shot at Howard, but it also sounds like he'd been contemplating what he did on Thursday ever since the report came out, and possibly sooner. Oftentimes, that a coach has thought about how to respond to rumors would go without saying. That Van Gundy decided to admit that he was thinking about the report anyway, though, displays that he knew what he was doing.
And what was he doing, exactly? He was taking a stand and living with the consequences. That is, doing everything that Howard himself refused to do all season. Howard's decision to delay his free agency by one year was the ultimate cop-out. He didn't take a stand to leave Orlando, nor did he proclaim any sort of long-term commitment to the franchise. Howard failed to realize that, stay or leave, he was going to have some group of people happy with what he ended up doing. He was going to piss some people off, sure, but he was also going to end up landing on his feet just fine with his new team. Had he signed in Brooklyn, you know Nets fans would have been very forgiving. Instead, he tried to placate everyone and only ended up pissing off everyone.
From the sounds of it, Van Gundy had enough a long time ago. All he needed was a moment to make his point. The moment arrived, and now, Van Gundy has earned respect for doing the one thing Howard still refuses to do: take a stand.
The funny thing about all this? Because of Van Gundy's calculated actions, nobody is questioning him for selling out his superstar in the thick of a playoff race with all the drama seemingly put on the back burner. That's the value of perception and actually taking a stand.