On a day Orlando Magic officials pledged publicly they’ll do everything they can to keep Dwight Howard, the team announced that the second-highest person in the team hierarchy — a person who has been in contact with Howard recently — is leaving his post.
Team officials announced that Bob Vander Weide, the son-in-law of Magic Owner Rich DeVos, has stepped down from his post as the Magic’s chief executive officer. Alex Martins has been promoted from president to CEO.
Vander Weide, Martins and Dan DeVos — one of the owner’s sons and now the team’s new chairman — insisted that Howard’s situation had nothing to do with Vander Weide stepping down.
“That had absolutely no role in this whatsoever,” Martins said. “This is something that Bob has started talking to me about over a year ago and something he’s probably talked to the family about longer than a year ago. And we’ve been preparing for this time for a year.”
Vander Weide, a member the NBA’s labor-relations and planning committees, said he was waiting for the league’s labor dispute to be resolved before he made his intentions public.
Martins confirmed that Howard had an in-person meeting with General Manager Otis Smith on Monday and had been in contact with Vander Weide, 53.
One of Howard’s conversations with Vander Weide included a late-night talk in which, according to Bright House Sports Networks, “Howard thought Vander Weide may have been intoxicated.”
Vander Weide told the Orlando Sentinel: “I can just tell you that, having spoken to Dwight Monday night after playing paddle tennis with a couple of buddies and having a couple of glasses of wine, I was not intoxicated, and we had a conversation.”
Vander Weide described that conversation as "amicable."
"There was no hard feelings," he said. "He had called a couple of times, and I wanted to get back to him. The only thing I can say is maybe I should of waited until the next morning having been with buddies and having had a couple of glasses of wine. But it was not aggressive. It was not negative. It was more 'where we're going to be this week.' And we talked candidly."
Howard can become a free agent after the 2011-12 season. His uncertain status beyond this upcoming season has ignited a flurry of speculation and angst among Magic fans about Howard’s future plans.
Howard largely has remained mum on the subject of his future plans, but in recent months, he’s indicated that he wants the Magic to improve.
At one point during a TV interview during a promotional trip to Russia, responding to a question from a reporter about who he’d like to play with, Howard said he’d like to play with superstar point guards Chris Paul and Deron Williams — who, like, Howard, can become free agents after this upcoming season.
Martins said the team would not comment on any specifics about team officials' conversations with Howard.
But Martins did say that the team expressed its interest in keeping Howard for the long-term and that it has a sense of how Howard wants the organization to progress.
"We've built a championship-caliber organization for him, and we believe that this is his home," Martins said. "He can own this city for the rest of his career, like the Brett Favres and the Albert Pujols of the world. They've been with their franchises for the most part (other than the end of Favre's career), stayed with their franchises and built championship organizations around them in what would be considered small- to mid-size markets.
"And Dwight Howard can be the NBA equivalent of that, and we're going to do everything we can do to make that occur. In the end, it's his decision, but we're going to give him every opportunity, every asset, every reason to be here for the rest of his career."
Dan DeVos, 53, will serve as the DeVos family's primary conduit with front-office officials on team matters.
Vander Weide started his career with the Magic in 1992 as vice president of basketball operations and was named the team’s president in 1994. He was promoted to CEO and vice chair in July 2010.
He and his wife, Cheri, the daughter of Rich DeVos, have five children. Vander Weide said one of the benefits of his decision to step down is that he’ll be able to spend more time with his family.
But he emphasized that family considerations aren’t the reason he’ll move into more of an advisory role with the Magic.
“We’ve got five beautiful kids,” he said. “We’re struggling like families do on a day-by-day basis to try to make it all work, but that’s where it’s at.”