ORLANDO — In one of the more supremely soap operatic moments in a season rife with them for the Magic, Dwight Howard put an arm around coach Stan Van Gundy in front of reporters Thursday and denied asking management to fire the coach moments after Van Gundy had said he knew the All-Star center had asked for his ouster.
The scene happened after the Magic completed its shootaround for its game against the Knicks. Talking to reporters, Van Gundy said "people in our management right from the top" had told him Howard asked that he be fired.
Then Howard, not realizing what Van Gundy had just said, walked over to the coach as Van Gundy still was talking to the media. Howard put his right arm around Van Gundy and started to dispute an Orlando TV station's report that he wanted Van Gundy gone. Howard also tried to shift attention onto the game against the Knicks.
A few seconds later, Van Gundy asked reporters if he could go and then walked away.
Howard told reporters he had previously denied the firing story to ESPN. When Howard was asked point blank if he asked to have Van Gundy fired, Howard responded, "What did I just say (Wednesday)? I know you guys watch ESPN."
Later, Howard said: "Whatever happens at the end of the season is not under my control. I am a player for the Magic. I am not the GM. I am not (owner) Rich DeVos. I am not (CEO) Alex Martins. So that's not my job. So you guys should stop with every other week … trying to find something, because there's nothing. There's nothing. I haven't said anything to anybody about anything. Our main concern is winning. So all the other stuff should stop."
Before Howard showed up, Van Gundy had been philosophical about the situation.
"That's just the way it is. Again, I've been dealing with that all year. It's not anything real bothersome. You go out and do your job," he said.
Asked if it made it harder to coach given he thinks Howard is not committed to him, Van Gundy responded, "It's not a matter of being committed to me. It's a matter of being committed to the team and trying to do everything you can to help the team win games. That's all I'm concerned with. As far as the other stuff, I don't think that matters. I don't need love and support here at my job. I'll turn to my family for that. I don't need these guys giving me hugs and pats on the back."
Team officials have said the decision on the long-term status of Van Gundy and general manager Otis Smith would be made by the DeVos family.
Smith said he didn't know if Van Gundy's allegation was true. He said Howard didn't say anything to him about it. Martins was unavailable to comment because he was on a family vacation, a team spokesman said.
Van Gundy's normal pregame media availability was canceled.
Howard was in the locker room before the game but didn't address the issue any further.
Reserve guard Ish Smith said he didn't hear about the morning's comments by Van Gundy until he arrived in the locker room to get dressed for the game. He said he didn't think internal issues had played into the Magic's recent losses.
"My mom loves soap operas, so for me to be a part of one is pretty special," Smith joked. "From the outside I think it looks like (a soap opera), but when you're on the inside, I think it's no effect on us. I think defensively the last three or four games has been what's been hurting us. I don't think anything off the court is causing us to lose these games."
Otis Smith said he didn't envision making changes to the coaching staff for the 12 remaining regular-season games.
"The alternative is go this way and change, but what are you changing into?" the GM said. "I think the coach has done a very good job. The team really has. We're not playing very good basketball right now, so (Van Gundy) gets a little frustrated, and the players get a little frustrated, and we are where we are."