Cubs

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 feel they've created the perfect situation for Adbert Alzolay to succeed

Why Cubs feel they've created the perfect situation for Adbert Alzolay to succeed

The day has finally come. The Pitcher that was Promised has actually made his way to Wrigley Field.

Adbert Alzolay's first big-league game Thursday might be the most thrilling debut for a pitching prospect for Cubs fans since Mark Prior and it represents the end of a long road for the 24-year-old right-hander and for the organization in general.

The Cubs initially signed Alzolay in 2012 as a 17-year-old out of Venezuela, but he really didn't put himself on the map until a breakout 2017 season with Advanced Class-A Myrtle Beach. He probably would've made his debut last year if not for a lat injury that ended his season in late May and he has the potential to be the first homegrown pitcher to make a real impact at the big-league level under Theo Epstein's front office.

"The stuff's really pretty good — good delivery, strike-thrower," Joe Maddon said. "All those kinds of things. He has the kind of ability that he could transform a group. Then again, you don't want to lay too much on him. He's a young man, he's just trying to make his mark.

"With the surroundings here and the other guys that are on the staff to wrap their arms around him, I think this is the perfect situation for him to morph into a team like this."

The Cubs wanted to ease Alzolay into major-league life and felt Tyler Chatwood had earned an opportunity to start Thursday's game amid a resurgent season, so Alzolay will back up Chatwood as a potential long relief option. Maddon said before the game he was aiming to get Alzolay into a clean inning and since the kid doesn't have much experience as a reliever, they want to give him plenty of time to warm up and get loose.

Maddon also wants Alzolay to enjoy himself and take in the entire experience.

The Cubs haven't made any determinations beyond Thursday's game with their rotation, so it's possible Alzolay and Chatwood could both be vying for the next turn in the order as Kyle Hendricks' return from a shoulder injury is not imminent. 

Nobody can predict the future, but Maddon said the Cubs have already been discussing "different methods" in how they can keep Alzolay here in Chicago, even when Hendricks returns. If the young pitcher performs, he could be a real weapon for the team in the second half and down the stretch.

Of course, it's all about health with Alzolay and there is no guarantee he has immediate success. But he's been on fire lately in Triple-A Iowa — 1.93 ERA, 40 strikeouts vs. only 3 walks in his last 28 innings — and with a group of veteran pitchers around him to learn from, it wouldn't be crazy to see him stick. It also helps that he has a fellow Venezuelan native as his catcher (Willson Contreras).

"Having never even seen him throw a baseball live — what I hear and what I see via video, I'm betting on him," Maddon said.

Alzolay has credited his development as a pitcher to improved production from his curveball and feels more confident in his changeup to accompany a fastball that can reach the mid-to-upper 90s.

On top of the physical attributes, Alzolay has drawn rave reviews from Cubs brass for his makeup and intangibles. He's also been making use of the times he's not on a mound by watching and studying MLB video.

"During my time off — after the games down there in Triple-A or even in spring training starting last year — I've been watching a lot of videos from all those guys to see the way they work here in the big leagues," Alzolay said. "Watching different guys that have the same kind of stuff that I have — watching and learning from that. I think it will help."

He also watched video of himself from 2017 and realize that he was too slow last year, so worked to speed up his tempo this season. 

Maddon believes life experience has helped mold Alzolay into the person and pitcher he is today, citing the 24-year-old's upbringing in Venezuela.

"He's a very mature young man," Maddon said. "...He slows things down. When you speak to him, he speaks clearly and slowly. I watch him on video and you get this sense of confidence when he throws the baseball. I think he knows exactly what he wants to do when he's out there, so he elicits confidence from that, also. He's just a very mature young man."

While Alzolay's debut is a source of excitement for the fanbase and everybody can dream on his tantalizing potential, his journey to the big leagues as a homegrown pitcher matters. This is a different situation than Kyle Hendricks or Carl Edwards Jr., since both players were drafted and partially developed in other organizations. 

At a time when the Cubs have an aging — and expensive — pitching staff, they could really use a guy like Alzolay to come up to the majors and stick...especially if it's eventually in the rotation.

"If you're running the organization, it's a big deal," Maddon said. "When you're able to draft and develop or sign and develop players, yeah there's something to that. When you have them right out of the womb, man, there's a lot of investment in that — from the scouts to the development people to the big-league staff. 

"But there's always a sense of pride of developing your own. That's just true. Whether there's a shortstop or a third baseman or whatever. And the fact that we've had a hard time developing pitchers that have arrived at the big-league level, yeah, it's good to get your feet on the ground with that and then try to recreate the template as you go along.

"I think everybody takes a strong sense of pride in watching his development."

NHL mock draft roundup: Experts predict who Blackhawks will take at No. 3

NHL mock draft roundup: Experts predict who Blackhawks will take at No. 3

VANCOUVER — For months, Blackhawks fans have been studying every mock draft there is to get an idea of who their team might take when they pick third overall on Friday.

With the NHL Draft one day away, let's look at who the experts are saying will go No. 3 overall to the Blackhawks:

Kevin Allen, USA TODAY: C Alex Turcotte

Craig Button, TSN: C Alex Turcotte

Adam Kimelman, NHL.com: C Alex Turcotte

Sam Kosentino, Sportsnet: C Trevor Zegras

Steve Kournianos, Sporting News: D Bowen Byram

Guillaume Lepage, NHL.com: C Dylan Cozens

Mike Morreale, NHL.com: C Alex Turcotte

Chris Peters, ESPN: C Alex Turcotte

Corey Pronman, The Athletic: D Bowen Byram

In total: five experts picked Turcotte, who led the way; two experts picked Byram, one expert picked Cozens; and one expert picked Zegras. The Blackhawks clearly have options at No. 3. And we will find out soon enough who it will be.

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