According to Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy, two weeks ago he suggested his players approach him if there was ever a problem with his grating style or negativity, especially after victories. Van Gundy could see a flaw in a rainbow.
Following Monday's win over the Charlotte Bobcats, an unexpectedly tough victory, Van Gundy tore into his team about its execution. The Magic won 97-91, shot just 42 percent, missed 21 3-pointers and 11 free throws. Another Van Gundy tongue lashing following a victory prompted a discussion between All-Star center Dwight Howard and Van Gundy. Van Gundy said he called the meeting while other players believe Howard approached him.
Howard told Van Gundy that his criticism was overboard and the coach needed to channel his post-game meetings more positively. Van Gundy said this open discussion is healthy for the Magic.
"What I saw on our team was a lack of enthusiasm and energy that we needed," he said before the Magic faced the Celtics. "I asked him what was going on. He thought part of it was sort of the pressure of expectations that we have. Some of it was the injuries that we had been through. And part of it was my negativity. So what he did was give me a very honest answer to a question that I asked and a lot of different factors. And I took a look at that and I said as far as my part of it, I think he's right and some things need to be corrected. But this was not Dwight coming in griping about the way he's being coached.
"That's just something he doesn't do much anyway. I was really happy he took a step up giving me an honest answer. If I didn't want it answered I wouldn't ask. I wanted to know what was going on because that's what I had seen with our team and I thought he game me a well thought out answer."
Forward Rashard Lewis said the team wants Howard to be a leader and its spokesman.
"His is basically our captain and a guy we have to follow," Lewis said of Howard. "He’s going to lead us to the championship and that’s where we are trying to get. We let him carry that load because even though he is young, he has to be an older guy now because he’s the guy we go to. Because he’s the guy we look at every night to win ball games and we put that pressure on him. And throughout the year he can learn to handle that pressure and be ready for it when the playoffs come."
Howard and Van Gundy have clashed before, the most publicized was during last season’s Eastern Conference semifinals after a tough Game 5 loss to the Celtics. Howard complained about the perimeter-heavy offense that left him without scoring chances in the fourth quarter. Van Gundy is known as a difficult and demanding coach but Lewis said the coach has softened while Howard has matured.
"You could tell (Van Gundy) has (lessened) his criticism," Lewis said. "He’s trying to be a little bit more positive. Stan Van Gundy is still the coach he’s going to be, if you are not playing well he’s going to let you know about it. He is trying to take a lot of the negative energy out because he wants his guys to play for him. He’s being a coach that wants to communicate with his players and telling us something he can be a pain in the ass. Letting him know, and he will try to take a step back."
Van Gundy admits he has trouble containing his disappointment when the team doesn't execute, especially on the bench.
"There's times quiet honestly, if I'm being totally honest, there are times where I really don't care what they think," he said. "And at those times I'm not going to ask them. But I came to (Howard). I wanted to know. Because I'm not in the locker room everyday. I don't hear what everyone's saying and I don't know what they're feeling all the time. I saw us with a lack of energy and if I ask I want honesty. I want an honest answer because I don't think you can work out the problems if he's walking on eggshells and not giving you an honest answer. And again, it was one of the factors he gave me. It was very honest. It was just what I wanted.
"On the bench I think is the biggest one, where I just let my frustration get the best of me and I just get real, real negative to where I'm not really making coaching points about what we need to do, I'm more berating -- not individuals, I don't do that a whole -- but I think berating us as a team. That's the stuff, it's not productive stuff. I'm still going to be who I am and I'll continue to correct, and be intense and probably get upset at times. But I just want to make it more constructive to where I'm coaching and not just bitching at them."