[We've posted this before, but why not again? ... Patrick Ewing enjoying a pre-game Pop Tart.]
On any given night, you can turn on SportsCenter and hear the names JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard. McGee gets mentioned for his dazzling dunks and puzzling basketball decisions, and Howard, with his looming free agency sprinkled in with 20 point/20 rebound performances, is equally good ESPN fodder. Even as the Wizards and Magic prepare to face off for the third time this season, the names McGee and Howard are very much in the NBA news cycle. McGee was benched during the second half of last night’s game against Milwaukee, and trade rumors with Howard’s name seem to be picking up steam. To get you ready for that and much more, Eddy Rivera (@erivera7) from the Orlando Magic ESPN TrueHoop blog MagicBasketball.net, and both Rashad Mobley (@Rashad20) and Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It) from Truth About It, will give you three answers to three questions…
#1) Who has the tougher coaching job the second half of the season: Stan Van Gundy, who will have to endure “The Dwight Howard Situation” much like George Karl had to do with Carmelo Anthony last year? Or Randy Wittman, who is the coach of 7-27 team that has no shot of even sniffing the playoffs?
EDDY RIVERA: Wittman. Even with Dwight’s future in flux, at least Van Gundy has a roster full of players that are coachable and smart. Not to pick on the Wizards or anything, but I can’t remember the last time I’ve watched a team with so much talent waste it away because the collective basketball IQ is so low (Wall is being dragged down unfortunately).
KYLE WEIDIE: As much as “these damn kids” are stressing the hell out of Wittman, a coach’s coach (and I think SVG is a coach’s coach too), he really doesn’t have a ton of pressure on him. Does he expect to return to Washington next season? I doubt it. Wittman is in an almost enviable (yet unenviable) coaching position of being able to take just about any chance with his players that his heart desires without disrupting team culture… because the Wizards have zero culture, at least in terms of winning. Van Gundy, on the other hand, is not only walking on egg shells in trying to appease a top league superstar to stay on a team coached by him, but also has to deal with the sensitivities of how the Howard situation affects his other players, all while trying to win. SVG’s situation is undoubtedly tougher.
RASHAD MOBLEY: Randy Wittman’s coaching job in the second half of the season is akin to a second term President. You want to do well because you have pride and your legacy is at stake, but you know you won’t be around next year, so you don’t stress it. Wittman, much like interim Wizards coach Ed Tapscott during the 2008-09 season, knows that his return is highly unlikely. That probably empowers him to bench youngsters and do what HE thinks is best, sans consequences. Stan Van Gundy’s job is way more difficult. Not only. If Dwight Howard stays, the team as it’s currently constructed cannot get back to the NBA Finals, and if he leaves, Van Gundy could very well be gone a couple of years later. For a coach that looks stressed out even when things are going well, that simply cannot be easy.
#2) JaVale McGee was benched the entire second half of last night’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks. If you’re Randy Wittman, what are you saying to JaVale prior to tonight’s game? And do you insert him back into the starting lineup?
RIVERA: “JaVale, you’ve been traded.” — Wittman.
And no, I wouldn’t. McGee is the epitome of what I’m talking about with Washington (Andray Blatche too). He has all the talent in the world, yet doesn’t utilize it properly. There comes a point in time when you wonder if he’ll ever get it. I’m skeptical he will.
WEIDIE: “I’m putting you back in the starting lineup because you are a very, very talented and skilled young man. But I’m watching you more than ever and I’m not going to give you a lick of slack, especially on the things we’ve coached you on over, and Over, and OVER again. Keep your head on a defensive swivel, be aware of movements in Orlando’s offense and how the defense should adjust; communicate with teammates, LOUDLY; do NOT try to block every shot, rather focus on positioning and stopping the other team from getting to the rim; and, so help me god, if you try a stupid offensive move, aside from a failure in any of the aforementioned areas, I’m bringing your ass right back to the bench. Why? Because I don’t give a fu*k. I don’t care about your mom, who clearly didn’t “coach” you worth a damn, and I don’t care about your immature “feelings.” Grow the eff up JaVale, seriously.” — I’m no NBA coach, but at least that’s what I’d say if I were Randy. Maybe he uses more f-bombs.
MOBLEY: “Son, do you know why I benched you? (rhetorical) I benched you because your effort was lacking and apparently so was your basketball IQ. Eddie Jordan, Eddie Tapscott, Flip Saunders, other players, assistant coaches, and even Charles Barkley, have all praised your talent and ability, while simultaneously voicing their frustration about every other aspect of your game. Well, I’m putting a stop to that. Forget about last night, let’s sit down and watch the tape from that Pistons game on February 12, THAT’S the JaVale I want to see. I want easy baskets, rebounds and contested shots in the paint. Anything short of that will land you right between Sam Cassell and I on the bench.”
#3) Let’s assume Dwight Howard gets moved before the trade deadline. Which Magic player’s game will suffer the most? Which player’s game will benefit from Howard’s absence?
RIVERA: Who will suffer? Everyone. Who will benefit? No one. Dwight is the center (pun intended) of the Magic’s universe in every conceivable way. Take him out of the equation and you have a lot of moving parts with nothing tying it together. If he’s traded, the players that will ultimately benefit will be his new teammates.
WEIDIE: I imagine Ryan Anderson’s game is going to come crashing down to earth. Not to say he’s playing beyond his talent now — because when Orlando got him from New Jersey in the Vince Carter deal, people said Anderson was a steal. So, the guy has talent. People know this. But if you think he’s going to keep shooting 43.4-percent on 3-pointers, averaging 2.9 makes to 6.7 attempts per game, then I doubt you have much of a clue about the game of basketball. To note: Rashard Lewis played 27.5-percent of his career NBA games in an Orlando Magic uniform, yet he has hit 38.9-percent of his career 3-points field-goals in that same Magic jersey. Guess who was responsible for that. Also, I’m not sure anyone will really benefit… unless Magic fans are dying to see more Daniel Orton.
MOBLEY: What struck me most during the Magic’s 2008-09 NBA Finals run was their ball movement. Yes, Dwight was in the middle wreaking havoc in every way possible, but there were also times he picked up two quick fouls and went to the bench. And when that happened? Hedo Turkgolu and Jameer Nelson did the heavy-lifting in the ball-handling department. They no longer had to focus on getting Dwight his touches, they could now drive to the basket, drive and kick, or in Hedo’s case, create mismatches in the post. I know Hedo and Jameer are a little longer in the tooth since then, and I’m not implying that a Dwight-less existence will be Utopia for them, but their play-making opportunities will definitely increase — and to Kyle’s point, Ryan Anderson’s future will depend on it.