“Celebrating my boy @peeweekirkland bday tonight,” the tweet read. “I’ll see y’all there.”
Magic center Dwight Howard was simply letting everyone know about his friend James Kirkland’s birthday celebration—an Orlando bash that is to be co hosted by fellow Atlanta native Josh Smith and will also feature appearances by people named D.J. Young Smitchell, D.J. Nice and BET’s D.J. Q45 (whoever they are).
The only problem is, the Magic previously told reporters that the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year is in Los Angeles seeing a back specialist, which is probably why the tweet was removed from Howard’s timeline. Now it’s important to note, Howard could have agreed to this engagement weeks ago and could potentially skip the event in light of his recent back issues–and there are issues.
“It’s back spasms, basically, caused by bruising and getting pounded,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said on Thursday, as quoted by Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel.
“It’s not a disk problem or anything, but anybody who’s been through back problems knows sometimes they resolve more quickly than others,” Van Gundy continued. “We’re heading down the stretch now, so as much as we’d like to get everybody together and have ‘em out there and playing, we’ve also got to get healthy. It’s a tough time.”
It’s easy to understand the consternation among Magic fans who have seen Howard miss four of the last six games, especially after reading about how precautious the team has been with Howard and his ailing back. (Even Kirkland has a right to complain after Howard’s picture dominated the flier for his birthday)
Orlando has lost six of its last eight contests and has gone from the third seed to the sixth seed in the East largely because of Howard’s back; so any late-night celebrating on his behalf looks like a slap in the face to the fans and organization (as we mentioned, there is a chance he’s blowing this off). Heck, flying around on an airplane is a lot to ask of someone with a bad back.
Van Gundy’s claim that Howard had been trying to get him fired is still a fresh wound, and the franchise as a whole had been jumping over itself to prevent its star from opting out of his contract this summer. When Howard decided to stay in Orlando right before the trade deadline, the Magic faithful thought the “Dwightmare” was over.
Turns out it’s just beginning.
For the first time in a while, the Orlando Magic go into a home game against the Atlanta Hawks tonight, and they’re not heavily favored. After tormenting the dysfunctional Hawks for years, the Magic have exposed their own infighting, insecurity and lack of direction. Now they’re the Hawks.
The plan was to keep Howard from leaving, right? So now that he’s on board for this year and next, shouldn’t the team be free to move forward and challenge the Chicago Bulls and Miami HEAT for Eastern Conference supremacy?
One league scout told HOOPSWORLD, that’s a lost cause.
“I think the Magic are done,” he said. “That’s not to say that they’ll go out with a whimper, but they are so volatile and I think they’re so broken right now that they’re not a threat in any way.”
The results speak for themselves. Orlando was 22-12 on Feb. 22nd and have gone 12-12 ever since, losing to such low-level teams as the Charlotte Bobcats, Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards.
In Tuesday’s loss to Washington the Magic conceded 24 points and 13 rebounds to Kevin Seraphin and blew an 11-point first-quarter lead by scoring just 12 points in the second frame and yielding 33 in the fourth.
Without Howard in the middle to keep Washington’s defense from overloading the perimeter, Orlando—the league’s most prolific 3-point shooting team—made just 11 of 35 attempts from beyond the arc and finished the game shooting 36.6% from the field.
The Magic aren’t in danger of missing the playoffs or anything like that. They have a three-game lead over the 76ers for the sixth spot in the East, which means they could be facing the Indiana Pacers in the first round. As luck would have it, our scout said, that’s probably the best matchup they could have hoped for.
“As good as Indy has been, I’m just not sold that they’re built for playoff success,” he said. “I’m not going to predict Orlando would beat them, but if I’m Orlando, that’s who I want to play. They’re lined up as well as can be.”
Still, don’t expect any miracles from a team that has clearly given up on itsel