Atlanta Journal-Constitution Hawks beat writer Chris Vivlamore has a funny way of debunking the reports of other writers. After Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Hawks are “aggressively” pursuing former Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, Vivlamore published a pair of reports questioning Wojnarowski’s accuracy. Wrote Vivlamore:
A report that the Hawks are “aggressively” pursing Stan Van Gundy for the yet-to-be vacant head coach position is inaccurate.
But in the same breath, Vivlamore confirms that Van Gundy is a candidate and that Hawks GM Danny Ferry has already contacted him. I would have to say that communicating with another candidate when Ferry has yet to terminate his current head coach is pretty aggressive. But however you characterize it, Ferry’s actions are sending a clear and calculated message to Dwight Howard. That message is, “if you want to influence who our next coach is going to be, we’re all ears.”
Over the summer, I speculated that Van Gundy lacked perspective regarding Orlando’s organizational dysfunction when he lashed out at Howard, but gained it once the damage was done. The fact that Van Gundy has since exonerated Howard and the two have remained in touch bears this out. If Ferry wanted to solicit an outside opinion on Howard’s thinking as he approaches free agency, Van Gundy seems like an obvious place to start.
But think about this: Was there any leak of the Joe Johnson trade ahead of time? How about the Marvin Williams trade? There wasn’t so much as a hint of speculation about either of these trades until just before they were announced. If Ferry wanted to keep his contact with Van Gundy under wraps, he’s shown the capability to do so in the past.
I speculated last week in my endorsement of Brian Shaw as next Hawks coach that Howard might be attracted if Shaw were hired. Howard is known to have preferred Phil Jackson’s system to the run-and-gun system of Mike D’Antoni which de-emphasizes post play. With Jackson unlikely to resume coaching, playing under Shaw might be Howard’s only chance to play in that system.
Meanwhile, Van Gundy isn’t the only person who has gained perspective since leaving Orlando. Seeing the Lakers organization flirt with Jackson after firing Mike Brown only to hire D’Antoni, Howard must have gained a new appreciation for what Van Gundy brought to the table. Simultaneously, Howard must realize that if he is going to win a championship, he’s going to need more firepower than the Lakers have to offer in Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, all in the twilight of their careers. Former third-team All-NBA center Al Horford, former Sixth Man of the Year candidate Lou Williams and other pieces Ferry could gather with hoarded cap space might be Howard’s best shot at returning to the Finals since Hedo Turkoglu was the second-best player on his team
Indeed, the combination of Howard, Horford and Josh Smith could be the best front court since Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale. Horford’s game complements Howard’s perfectly since he would have no problem deferring post touches and is deadly from outside. A healthy Smith could feast on other small forwards, but the Hawks would need a strong-willed coach to correct the negative aspects of Smith’s game.
A better idea might be to sign Howard, let Smith walk in free agency and use the remaining cap space to surround Howard and Horford with depth. Smith’s woes at the free throw line have become almost as epic as Howard’s and his durability is a major question mark. You can be assured that Van Gundy and Howard will take all such factors into consideration before making their next moves. Should both decide to labor elsewhere, you have Vivlamore’s assurance that it was never an aggressive pursuit.