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Magic fire Van Gundy, GM Smith

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Magic fire Van Gundy, GM Smith

ORLANDO, Fla. -- 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."
Copyright2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Why Cubs core's desire to sign extensions might not matter anymore

Why Cubs core's desire to sign extensions might not matter anymore

The day after Kris Bryant suggested that first-time fatherhood and the dramatic reality of world events have changed how he looks at his future with the Cubs, general manager Jed Hoyer outlined why it might be all but moot.

Setting aside the fact that the Cubs aren’t focusing on contract extensions with anyone at this time of health and economic turmoil, the volatility and unpredictability of a raging COVID-19 pandemic in this country and its economic fallout have thrown even mid-range and long-term roster plans into chaos.

“This is without question the most difficult time we’ve ever had as far as projecting those things,” Hoyer said. “All season in projecting this year, you weren’t sure how many games we were going to get in. Projecting next season obviously has challenges, and who knows where the country’s going to be and the economy’s going to be.”

Bryant, a three-time All-Star and former MVP, is eligible for free agency after next season. He and the club have not engaged in extension talks for three years. And those gained little traction while it has looked increasingly likely since then that Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, would eventually take his star client to market — making Bryant a widely circulated name in trade talks all winter.

MORE: Scott Boras: Why Kris Bryant's free agency won't be impacted by economic crisis

The Cubs instead focused last winter on talks with All-Star shortstop Javy Báez, making “good” or little progress depending on which side you talked to on a given day — until the pandemic shut down everything in March.

Báez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are both also eligible for free agency after next season, with All-Star catcher Willson Contreras right behind them a year later.

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None has a multiyear contract, and exactly what the Cubs are willing to do about that even if MLB pulls off its 60-game plan this year is hard for even the team’s front office executives to know without knowing how hard the pandemic will continue to hammer America’s health and financial well-being into the winter and next year.

Even with a vaccine and treatments by then, what will job markets look like? The economy at large? The economy of sports? Will anyone want to gather with 40,000 others in a stadium to watch a game anytime soon?

And even if anyone could answer all those questions, who can be sure how the domino effect will impact salary markets for athletes?

“There’s no doubt that forecasting going forward is now much more challenging from a financial standpoint,” Hoyer said. “But that’s league-wide. Anyone that says they have a feel for where the nation’s economy and where the pandemic is come next April is lying.”

The Cubs front office already was in a tenuous place financially, its payroll budget stretched past its limit and a threat to exceed MLB’s luxury tax threshold for a second consecutive season.

And after a quick playoff exit in 2018 followed by the disappointment of missing the playoffs in 2019, every player on the roster was in play for a possible trade over the winter — and even more so at this season’s trade deadline without a strong start to the season.

Now what?

For starters, forget about dumping short-term assets or big contracts for anything of value from somebody’s farm system. Even if baseball can get to this year’s Aug. 31 trade deadline with a league intact and playing, nobody is predicting more than small level trades at that point — certainly not anything close to a blockbuster.

After that, it may not get any clearer for the sport in general, much less the Cubs with their roster and contract dilemmas.

“We have a lot of conversations about it internally, both within the baseball side and then with the business side as well,” Hoyer said. “But it’s going to take a long time and probably some sort of macro things happening for us to really have a good feel for where we’re going to be in ’21 and beyond.”

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Cubs GM Jed Hoyer: Everyone in MLB has to take COVID-19 'equally' serious

Cubs GM Jed Hoyer: Everyone in MLB has to take COVID-19 'equally' serious

Veteran umpire Joe West made waves Tuesday downplaying the severity of COVID-19 in an interview with The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. 

“I don’t believe in my heart that all these deaths have been from the coronavirus," West said. "I believe it may have contributed to some of the deaths.”

As far as the Cubs are concerned, those comments don’t represent how to treat the virus. In fact, they’ve gone out of their way to ensure everyone treats it with equal severity.

“That’s one of the things we've really tried internally to instill in our players and our coaches,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday, “[that] everyone here has to take it equally [serious].”

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Hoyer noted like the world, MLB isn’t immune to people having different viewpoints on the virus — those who show concern and those who don’t. This echoes comments made by manager David Ross earlier on Tuesday, and Hoyer said those he’s talked to with the Cubs don’t feel the same way as West.

The Cubs had an up close and personal look at pitching coach Tommy Hottovy’s battle with COVID-19 during baseball’s shutdown. It took the 38-year-old former big leaguer 30 harrowing days to test negative, and in the past week many Cubs have said watching him go through that hit home. 

“When you get a 38-year-old guy in wonderful health and he talks about his challenges with it,” Hoyer said, “I think that it takes away some of those different viewpoints.”

To ensure everyone stays safe and puts the league in the best position to complete a season, MLB needs strict adherence to its protocols.

“I think that's one of our goals and one of the things that we feel is vital is that we have to make sure everyone views this the same way, because we can't have a subset of people within our group that don't view it with the same severity,” Hoyer said.

“That’s not gonna work. We're not gonna be successful."

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