Shaquille O'Neal left forlorn fans in Orlando wondering "why" when he bailed on the Magic in 1996, and, now, 20 years later, Shaq's former teammate — Scott Skiles — has left fans feeling with the same deserted, desolate feeling.
"I can't remember (anything like) this happening," embattled Orlando Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said Thursday when I asked him if he could ever recall an NBA coach willingly resigning and leaving millions of dollars on the table.
This was one of the darkest days in Magic history. This wasn't just any coach who quit on the franchise after just one season as coach; this was Scotty Skiles — one of the most beloved former players in franchise history.
The tone in Magic CEO Alex Martins' voice last Thursday told the story — utter disbelief and sadness. Even though the Magic insist Hennigan is the man who made the decision to hire Skiles a year ago, everybody knows he was Martins' man. Skiles was the Magic's popular and pugnacious point guard two decades ago when Martins was the team's chief publicist.
"I'm disappointed more than anything," a somber Martins said. "Scott was a friend first and foremost and we've had a long history together. . . . When anybody quits, you're blindsided."
Martins said he received the resignation phone call from Skiles Wednesday and even called him back Thursday morning to try to get him to change his mind.
Skiles said his decision was final.
He quit on the Magic just like he quit on the Milwaukee Bucks.
Doesn't he owe the fans in Orlando more than just a canned quote?
Martins tried to put a positive spin on the Magic's "upward" future, but right now even the most astute PR expert can't put a happy face on what happened Thursday when Skiles released a prepared statement that read: "After much thought and careful consideration, I and I alone, have come to the conclusion that I am not the right head coach for this team. Therefore, effective immediately, I resign my position."
Translation: Scott Skiles fired the Orlando Magic.
This just doesn't happen in professional sports. Teams fire coaches all the time, but coaches never quit on teams. It's almost unprecedented for a pro coach with three years remaining on his contract to leave $12 million on the table to voluntarily resign. Obviously, there's more to this than what's being made public; there always is.
Skiles likely will never say anything, considering the Magic most likely bought his silence by admitting they had reached a "separation agreement" with their former coach. A separation agreement, by most accounts, can be defined thusly: "Here's a bunch of money, now shut up!"
No matter how or why this happened, this is absolutely awful for the Magic. They are four years and two coaches into a cumbersome rebuild that doesn't appear to be working. Now there is this question: How are they going to convince big-name free agents to come when they can't even convince their coach to stay?
Last May, Skiles said, "This is my home. . . I feel comfortable here. . . This is the right place at the right time."
This May, he is essentially saying, "I am the wrong man at the wrong time."
The scariest part of all for Magic fans is the distinct possibility that it doesn't really matter who the Magic hire as their new coach.
By quitting on his team, isn't Scott Skiles telling everyone that what the Magic really needs is new players? —Orlando Sentinel (TNS)