It isn’t that the Magic didn’t enjoy success under the Smith/Van Gundy regime. They were a dominant team in the Eastern Conference, and with a little bit better late game play in the 2009 Finals, they might have a championship banner hanging from the rafters of Amway Arena. OTOH, it was time for a change. All Star center Dwight Howard was rumored to be lobbying for VG’s dismissal, and Smith’s personnel moves had left the team few solid options to improve. In general all star centers are a lot rarer commodities in the NBA than solid GMs and coaches.
The dismissal of Smith marks the second time that second time in 24 months that a GM who tried to build a championship team quickly to keep a high profile superstar from leaving town has failed. Smith’s final years weren’t as frantic as Danny Ferry’s in Cleveland where he tried to build a team that would keep LeBron James from leaving town, but the results in the executive suite were the same. Howard declined an opt-out provision in his contract but he can still leave Orlando in 2013 and given the personnel mess that surrounds him, it’s hard to imagine that he’ll stay since he seems to hear his biological ring clock ticking.
Smith is responsible for that mess and that’s where the lasting impact of his dismissal may occur. It takes time to build a championship team (yes, that’s probably Pat Riley nodding in the corner). If San Antonio wins it all this year (and I think they will), then we could be onto a new model of contender building. The 2011 champion Dallas Mavericks and the Spurs both built teams that could contend annually and last year in Dallas and maybe this year in San Antonio it will have paid off.
The idea of cobbling together a bunch of players to have a parade now leads to really bad personnel decisions like Miami’s deal with Mike Miller, Orlando’s with Hidyet Turkoglu or any number of Danny Ferry deals. Teams win titles and they aren’t built overnight