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Orlando GM John Weisbrod suggested that head coach Johnny Davis may get his contract extended so that he doesn't go into next season as a so-called lame duck. Weisbrod indicated somewhat mysteriously that even if his contract is not extended, Davis will still have control over the players. But is a coach in his last season really powerless to mold his team? Or is the lame duck theory just a red herring?
When Davis took over for released head coach Doc Rivers, he refused to take the job on an interim basis and insisted -- and received -- a two-year deal. Next season would be the last of his contract. There is no way to avoid having a lame duck season other than being fired prematurely; the best anyone can do is postpone when that season happens. Does Davis really expect to extend his contract every year?
It's a cliche around the NBA that coaches in their final seasons don't have much influence on the players. The reasoning is that the players see that their coach likely won't be around next year, and pay him no attention. They see who is making all the money in the franchise (themselves) and won't bother listening to a coach that makes a fraction of their salary who will be gone after the year is out.
By this theory, no player on any team with an interim coach or a head coach with an expiring contract will listen to the coach, even if it is just to win ball games.
What about Denver?
Jeff Bzdelik is in the final year of his contract. Last year, Don Nelson of the Dallas Mavericks was in his last year. Plus, there have been plenty of examples of interim coaches becoming head coaches through their success. Just look at Jim O'Brien, who replaced Rick Pitino in Boston all those years ago and just landed a new gig in Philadelphia.
There is no truth, in general, to the proposition that players won't listed to coaches with expiring contracts. These players are professionals, and they will go out and do their job. That means playing how the coach wants them to play.
Any coach, regardless of his contract, has the final say on playing time. That's what it means to be a coach. So if you don't play the way the coach wants, he'll bench you. That means you won't be seen by your fans, you'll get fewer endorsements, and you'll have a harder time accomplishing whatever statistical feats you need to get your bonuses. Any coach has that power.
The fact that Davis appears to be insisting on an extension after having already received a two-year deal instead of an interim basis last year can only be attributed to two possibilities: either 1) Davis is a amster negotiator looking to maximize his negotiating power, or 2) there is something rotten on the Magic roster.
If Davis is merely using the lame duck theory as a lever to get himself a better deal, that's fine. That's good old-fashioned capitalism. If Weisbrod believes him and acquiesces, bully for Davis, and perhaps bully for Magic fans, if he turns out to be a great coach.
But if this is a real concern, if there is a legitimate fear that players like Tracy McGrady, Drew Gooden, Juwon Howard, and others would ignore a coach in his final contract year, then something is very wrong with the Magic squad. Professionals wouldn't do that.
Since this is the second time this kind of situation has come up, the first being Davis's initial refusal to coach on an interim basis, I'm leaning towards the second explanation. The next obvious question to ask is: who in particular among the players wouldn't respect and listen to a coach even if it's his last year?
The answer to that question is also the answer to this question: who should the Magic trade?
The Orlando Sentinelhas a pictorial retrospectiveof Tracy McGrady's 2003-2004 season.
Just because the season is over doesn't mean the players are unreachable. If you want to ask any Magic player a question, you canemailthe Magic. Be sure to include the name of the player you want the ask your question of.
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John Denton ofFlorida Todaywrites: Orlando Magic general manager John Weisbrod hinted that the contract of head coach Johnny Davis will be extended before next season even though Davis had a 20-51 record.Weisbrod is fully committed to Davis for next season and wants him to have as fair a shot as possible at turning the fortunes of the franchise around. He thinks Davis was in an impossible situation this season, taking over a Magic team that was 1-10 when Doc Rivers was fired. Weisbrod wants to ensure that Davis doesn't enter the year as a lame duck coach and wants him to have as much control as possible over his players. With that in mind, Weisbrod said that a contract extension might be in the works.
George Diaz ofThe Orlando Sentinel writes: The Orlando Magic are a dysfunctional family in need of extensive therapy.The team's superstar is in a funk. The general manager wants to recruit players with a hockey mentality despite the bouncing-ball nature of the game. Another star remains in a bad place, stuck between fading memories of greater glory and a foreboding future with not much promise. But hey, plenty of good seats available if you don't mind the ticket hike. And so begins the most critical juncture of this franchise since You-Know-Who left in the summer of 1996. Despite all the conspiracy theories, Mr. O'Neal was likely long-gone to Los Angeles, no matter how much sucking up the Devos family did at the negotiating table. It's different this time with Tracy McGrady, arguably one of the top three players in the NBA and a young man the Magic simply cannot afford to lose, even with "compensation."
Tim Ellsworth ofThe Florida Baptist Witness writes: Basketball might be just a game to some, but for Orlando Magic center Andrew DeClercq, it’s a lot more.That’s why a season like the one winding down has been so difficult for him... The losses are also hard for DeClercq to leave on the court. “It affects every part of your life,” he said. “It brings a lot of worry in.” But despite the difficulties, DeClercq has found strength in the promises of God, and he tries to keep things in perspective. A devotional book he uses, Streams in the Desert, talks about going through difficult times spiritually, but DeClercq said he can relate that to going through a tough season. “Through everything, God is in it,” he said. “Sometimes he gives us trials and testings to draw us closer to him, for us to learn to depend on him.”
Peter Kerasotis ofFlorida Todaywrites: OK, Magic fans. Gather round. We're going to play a little game. Bummed out that your team is already in the offseason while most every other NBA team is in the postseason? No problem. We're going to play a little game called "Root For Your Favorite Former Magic Player In The Playoffs."Hey, the way Orlando is going, this could become an annual rite of spring.
Mike Kahn ofSportsLine.comwrites: The Orlando Magic fired coach Doc Rivers, then general manager John Gabriel -- all a consequence of a 1-19 start -- and now a hockey guy, CEO John Weisbrod, has body-checked superstar Tracy McGrady into the boards, demanding he let them know if he plans to stay or leave as a free agent in the summer of 2005.Some play hardball, some play softball, but all of them are trying marketing schemes to attract fans. For some reason, everybody seemed to forget. There's only one sure-fire way to make money and win. Good players with a coach who emphasizes chemistry. How difficult can that be? Evidently, very.