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Magic front office cleans house; Is Howard next?

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Magic front office cleans house; Is Howard next?

From Comcast SportsNet
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- For months the Orlando Magic have been trudging through the aftermath of a preseason trade request by Dwight Howard that sapped the life out of the franchise as internal team issues quickly affected the product on the floor. Now after easily one of the most tumultuous seasons in their history, they made the first in what promises to be a huge offseason shake-up The Magic fired coach Stan Van Gundy on Monday and agreed to part ways with general manager Otis Smith, severing ties with two of the architects of one of the most successful runs in franchise history. Smith and Van Gundy's relationship with Howard was the centerpiece of drama the team faced all season and following their second straight first-round playoff exit, CEO Alex Martins said the shift was warranted. "It's time for a new leadership and a new approach," Martins said at a news conference to discuss the moves. "We simply came to the decision that we were not on the right track," Martins wouldn't go into many specifics about what he is looking for in replacements, saying only that he and ownership want to fill the general manager post by June's NBA draft. He said he would sit down with ownership on Tuesday to begin ironing out the details of both searches. Phone and text messages left with Van Gundy and Smith by The Associated Press were not immediately returned. Orlando went 37-29 in the regular season but was eliminated in five games by Indiana after a rash of late-season injuries that included back surgery for Howard. Orlando went 5-12 without him. Martins said those consecutive first-round playoff exits were "simply not good enough." In early April, Van Gundy claimed top-ranking team officials had told him that Howard had asked management to fire Van Gundy as a condition of the center signing a long-term contract beyond 2013. Howard denied it. Martins addressed that dispute directly, saying "At no time during that time did Dwight ask me to have Stan fired." With a relationship with Smith dating back to the Magic's inaugural season when Smith was a player and a five-year relationship with Van Gundy, Martins also called Monday "the most difficult day of my career." Both Smith and Van Gundy are under contract through next season and both of their contracts will be honored. The current assistant coaching staff has also been offered the opportunity to stay on for now. Van Gundy coached the Magic for five seasons. He finished with a 259-135 record, going 31-28 in the playoffs. Smith departs after six years. He was the architect of Magic teams that made it to the playoffs in each of those seasons, winning the Eastern Conference championship in 2009. But he also made several questionable moves, including trades for Vince Carter and Gilbert Arenas that failed to work out long-term. The day after the Magic's season ended with the loss to the Pacers, Smith said that he would need a few days to even decide whether he wanted to return to that position following the tough year, setting it as a "50-50" chance. Van Gundy said at the time he wanted to return and was hoping that the ultimate decision would be about performance solely. "When you're talking a professional relationship, what matters -- at least to me -- is the results," Van Gundy said. "I don't care if it's a business relationship where two people at work are driving a business to make money, or if it's a sports relationship, where the object is to win games." But both also have acknowledged that this lockout-shortened season was trying for everyone involved. "This season, and we've been digesting it all year, has been the longest, shortest season that we've had," Smith said. "But it's something that you have to go through. Most sports franchises at some time go through a little bit of uncertainty and this is our time." Martins said that ideally the Magic's next coach will have a championship pedigree, though acknowledged that the search wouldn't exclude assistants or others who have experience. He said the same was true for the general manager position. Martins was effusive in his praise as Van Gundy as a "great strategic coach," but acknowledged that one of the factors they want to see in a new coach is someone who is great at building relationships with players. "Strategically we may not be able to find anyone better," he said. Howard often commented about Van Gundy's grumpy demeanor on the floor, saying it was at times counterproductive for the team. This past summer Smith met with Van Gundy and he left that meeting pledging to make improvements. It included him meeting with a Stanford University psychology professor for advice on how to be a better leader. And it seemed to work, with Van Gundy incurring just one technical during the shortened regular-season, a low during his Magic tenure. But it wasn't enough to save his job. Now the attention shifts to Howard, who remains in Los Angeles recovering from his surgery. Martins said team officials continue to be in dialogue with the all-star, but hasn't yet gotten an answer on whether he would like to stay beyond next season when his contract expires. After a season spent in limbo before Howard finally opted into the final year of his deal, Martins has said the team won't repeat the same ordeal. That at least leaves open the possibility the Magic could trade him at some point should Howard not agree to sign long-term. "I think the decision is on Dwight now," Martins said. "Dwight needs to decide where his future lies."

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Build up the defense and forget about big money QBs? It's not that easy

Build up the defense and forget about big money QBs? It's not that easy

Blake Bortles, Nick Foles and Case Keenum will be three of the four quarterbacks playing in on Championship Sunday this weekend. That's remarkable, as none of the three are considered elite passers.

The strength of those three teams is very obviously their defenses. Minnesota and Jacksonville rank as the top two defenses in the NFL, and the Eagles rank fourth. 

Naturally, in a copycat league like the NFL, many fans are starting to wonder how to emulate the model established by the success of the Vikings, Jaguars and Eagles. For Redskins fans facing the possibility of losing Kirk Cousins to free agency or paying the franchise record holder upwards of $28 million a year or more, is investing heavily in the defense and saving money at the QB position a faster path to playoff success?

RELATED: REALISTIC REDSKINS QB OPTIONS IN 2018 NFL DRAFT

The question makes sense.

The answer, however, is much harder to explain.  

Let's dispel a few myths to start. The Eagles have a great defense, sure, but Philadelphia was getting fantastic quarterback play from second-year star Carson Wentz. He got hurt late in the regular season. Playing Foles was never the plan in Philadelphia, and the Eagles invested heavily in draft picks to trade up and acquire Wentz. Do not for a second think Philadelphia got Wentz on the cheap. 

Next up we have Keenum. Yes, he's cheap, with a salary of less than $2 million. He's also been terrific.

One of the more interesting QB situations in the last decade unfolded in Minnesota this season. Highly paid Sam Bradford ($18 million in 2017) got hurt, and Keenum took off like a rocket as the backup. In 14 starts he's completed 67 percent of his passes for more than 3,500 yards to go with 22 touchdowns against seven interceptions. The Vikes went 11-3 with Keenum at the helm in the regular season, and just logged an incredible 29-24 comeback win over the Saints in the divisional round. In the final seconds of the victory, Keenum threw the game-winning TD. 

Lastly, there's Bortles. His numbers this year were decent. He runs a conservative offense and does a pretty good job. He threw for nearly 3,700 yards with 21 TDs against 13 INTs. He was plenty good for the Jaguars as they pulled off a stunning 45-42 upset in Pittsburgh in the divisional round last weekend. Jacksonville used a ton of draft capital to select Bortles with the No. 3 overall pick in 2014 and the team has already picked up his $19 million option for the 2018 season. Nothing cheap there. 

RELATED: REBUILD OR RETOOL?

Beyond the quarterbacks, obviously, the Vikings, Eagles and Jags all have terrific defenses. Much of that came in the way of smart free agent decisions. 

Much of the success of the three defenses also came from good drafting, season after season. 

Jacksonville's 2016 draft haul is incredibly impressive. In the first three rounds, the Jags selected Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue. All three now start, and star, for the Jacksoville defense. 

Minnesota drafted Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr over the last four seasons, with plenty of other contributors coming via the draft as well. 

One year after giving up four picks to acquire Wentz, the Eagles went defense with their first three selections in 2017. 

The point isn't that free agency can't make a good defense into a great one, that can happen. But to build a truly great defense, significant draft capital needs to be used. Teams must nail their first round picks, and hit on a few players later in the draft as well. 

RELATED: CAN'T BASE COUSINS DECISION OFF MAKEUP OF FINAL FOUR

Further, stop thinking that just because Bortles, Foles and Keenum are starting this weekend that those teams didn't spend plenty at QB. Minnesota had more than $22 million invested at the quarterback position in 2017. Bortles was a third overall pick, and the Eagles gave up four picks  just for the chance to acquire Wentz. 

For Redskins fans, know that building the defense is absolutely a strong strategy. Last year, Washington used its first three draft selections on defensive players for the first time in 20 years. This offseason, the Redskins should again look to add talent on defense, both through the draft and free agency. 

That success will not come over night, however, and it will not come without a capable quarterback. 

Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayNBCS for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcastshere for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

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5 must-see moments from Wizards' tough loss to Bucks including John Wall's circus shot

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5 must-see moments from Wizards' tough loss to Bucks including John Wall's circus shot

Here are the five best plays or moments from the Wizards' 104-95 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday afternoon...

1. John Wall came out swinging in the first half with 22 points, 16 of them in the first quarter alone. 

This was one of his best plays. Wall split two defenders and then flipped it in off the glass:

Wall finished with 27 points, nine assists, four rebounds, three steals and two blocks. 

2. Kelly Oubre, Jr. led the Wizards' bench with 19 points, five rebounds and a block. He missed on this play, but nearly dunked on Giannis Antetokounmpo. That would have been something:

[PODCAST: MIDSEASON AWARDS FOR MVP, BEST WIN AND MORE]

3. Oubre did get this one to go down. He popped a three at the buzzer to end the third quarter:

4. Wall had some nice passes including this alley-oop lob to Tomas Satoransky. Sato got way up there:

Satoransky also threw down this alley-oop pass earlier thrown by Bradley Beal:

5. This last play was by the Bucks and it was not something you see every day. Antetokounmpo fired an assist through his legs like a longsnapper:

The Wizards lost a close one. Now they head to Charlotte to begin a five-game road trip.

[PODCAST: BRADLEY BEAL ON HIS GROWTH AS A LEADER]