Did Dwight Howard ask team to fire its coach?


Did Dwight Howard ask team to fire its coach?

From Comcast SportsNet
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said Thursday he has been told by high-ranking team officials that star center Dwight Howard has previously asked that he be fired. "I know he has," Van Gundy told reporters after the team's morning shootaround ahead of Thursday night's matchup with the New York Knicks. "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." Sounds simple -- something that's become rare in Orlando. The stay-or-go drama surrounding Howard has haunted the Magic all season. After securing Howard's services for at least another season at the trade deadline last month, Thursday brought the latest wrinkle to the saga. Howard has denied reports that he has asked for Van Gundy's dismissal. He again denied it Thursday. "Whatever happens at the end of the season is not under my control," Howard told reporters. "I am a player for the Magic. I am not the GM. I am not (owner) Rich DeVos I am not (Magic CEO) Alex Martins. So that's not my job. So you guys should stop ... every other week ... trying to find something, because there's nothing. "I haven't said anything to anybody about anything. Our main concern is winning. So all the other stuff should stop." Asked how he was sure of a report that has been circulated and repeatedly denied by Howard and other team officials throughout the season, the 52-year-old Van Gundy said he had been told by "people right in our management, right from the top." Van Gundy's normal pregame media availability was canceled Thursday night. Howard was in the locker room before the game, but didn't address the issue any further. Magic 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 doesn't think any internal issues have 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." The whole episode was a definite change in approach by Van Gundy, who is usually mum when it comes to issues dealing with his job status. The day before the trade deadline last month, Van Gundy himself sidestepped questions about reports that Howard had asked management to jettison both himself and general manager Otis Smith as a condition for him signing a long-term contract extension. "If they want to fire me to please somebody, fire me," Van Gundy said at the time. Van Gundy's current contract runs through the end of the season. He has guided the Magic to at least 50 wins in each of his four previous seasons and led Orlando to the NBA Finals in 2009. Howard and Van Gundy have seemingly always been on cordial terms, though he's sometimes been critical of Van Gundy's direct and vocal coaching style, which he has previously said can be counterproductive to team morale. Smith and Van Gundy met during the offseason. The coach left the meeting pledging to tone down some of his intensity during games with both officials and players. So far this season he has yet to receive a technical foul. Asked this week to address the status of Van Gundy and Smith, Martins said only that both he and Smith will undergo end-of-the-season evaluations, as do all Magic employees.

Bears Talk Podcast: What's next for Bears at QB after Brian Hoyer suffers broken arm?


Bears Talk Podcast: What's next for Bears at QB after Brian Hoyer suffers broken arm?

Lance Briggs, Alex Brown and Jim Miller break down where the Bears go at QB following Brian Hoyer’s injury and evaluate the defense’s gutsy performance on Thursday night against the Packers despite numerous injuries. Plus, a look at the big picture and who can help the Bears down the road.

Check out the latest edition of the Bears Talk Podcast here:

Anthony Rizzo/Javier Baez antics show how this Cubs team doesn’t feel the same weight of history

Anthony Rizzo/Javier Baez antics show how this Cubs team doesn’t feel the same weight of history

LOS ANGELES – Within minutes of the last out on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, ESPN’s @SportsCenter account sent out a photo of Moises Alou at the Wrigley Field wall to more than 30 million Twitter followers: “The last time the Cubs were up 3-2 in an NLCS was Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS vs. the Marlins. Most remember it as ‘the Bartman Game.’”

As Kerry Wood once said: “Irrelevant, dude.”
Look, the Cubs still need to find a way to beat either Clayton Kershaw or Rich Hill this weekend, with Kenley Jansen resting and waiting for the multiple-inning saves. The obligatory description for Kershaw is “the best pitcher on the planet.” Hill’s lefty curveball – and “the perceptual velocity” of his fastball – freezes hitters. Jansen has a mystical cutter reminiscent of the great Mariano Rivera. The top-heavy part of this Los Angeles playoff pitching staff has held the Cubs to zero runs in 16.1 innings.

But until proven otherwise, forget about this idea of a Cubs team weighed down by the history of a franchise that hasn’t played in the World Series since 1945.

Just look at Javier Baez getting in Anthony Rizzo’s airspace during Game 5, the human-highlight-film second baseman standing right next to the All-Star first baseman as he caught a Kike Hernandez pop-up for the second out of the third inning.

It didn’t matter that this was a 1-0 game and MVP-ballot players Justin Turner and Corey Seager were coming up. This is what the 2016 Cubs do. Rizzo caught the ball, quickly flipped it underhand and it bounced off Baez’s chest – in front of a sellout crowd of 54,449 and a national Fox Sports 1 audience.

“We always mess around,” Rizzo said at his locker inside a tight clubhouse jammed with media after an 8-4 win. “So I’m screaming: ‘Javy! Javy! I got it! I got it, Javy, I got it!’

“And usually he’ll yell at me: ‘Don’t miss it!’ Or I’ll yell at him: ‘Don’t miss it!’

“We do that a lot. If it’s a pop-up to him, I’ll go right behind him. It’s just little ways of slowing the game down and having fun, too.”

Rizzo is a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman for a team that led the majors in defensive efficiency this year. As a super-utility guy, Baez got credit for 11 defensive runs saved in 383 innings at second base, or one less than co-leaders Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler, who each did it in almost 1,300 innings.

“Sometimes when I call (Rizzo) off to get a fly ball, he starts talking to me,” Baez said. “I tell him: ‘Hey, you can do whatever you want. Just don’t move my head. You can touch me if you want. Just don’t move my head.’

“And I told him to be ready for it, because I was going to do the same thing. You just got to be focused on the fly ball. No matter what’s happening around you, you just got to catch it.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

This isn’t about Bartman. It’s about a group of young, confident players who are growing up together and absolutely expect to be in this position. It’s manager Joe Maddon designing “Embrace The Target” T-shirts and telling them to show up to the ballpark whenever they want and then blow off batting practice.

“For sure, we’re relaxed,” said Baez, who’s gone viral during these playoffs, the rest of the country witnessing his amazing instincts and flashy personality. “I’m relaxed when I play defense.”

The thing is, Rizzo and Baez could be playing next to each other for the next five years, the same way Kris Bryant and Addison Russell will be anchoring the left side of the infield.

This is how Rizzo introduced Russell to The Show when a natural shortstop tried to learn second base on the fly last year and track pop-ups in front of 40,000 people: “Hey, watch out for that skateboard behind you! Don’t trip!”

“Oh yeah, we yell at each other all the time,” Rizzo said. “It’s just one of those things where you got to stay loose.”