The Orlando Magic have made it clear they are in the midst of a massive rebuild, but who would have ever thought the restoration project might stretch all the way into the TV booth and claim the job of respected color commentator Matt Guokas?
That's right, the Magic have decided not to renew the contract of Guokas -- a man that local fans consider to be a trusted friend and NBA observers nationwide consider to be the consummate professional.
"Matt Guokas is … unbiased, smart, funny, reads everything. Hard to understand why ORL would ditch him," tweeted Zach Lowe, who covers the NBA for ESPN's Grantland.com.
"… To those of us that make our living diving into the NBA League Pass package from October until April, desperately trying to keep up with each of the league's 30 teams, Guokas has been a welcome voice throughout the legions of both blithely unaware and doggedly partisan local NBA color analysts," wrote Kelly Dwyer, basketball blogger for YahooSports.com. "That isn't to say I don't enjoy the great majority of local color guys, as that majority are usually quite good. Guokas was great, though. The best, perhaps. And he won't be back with the Magic next season, for whatever reason."
Dwyer is absolutely right. It makes little sense for the Magic to replace an analyst who was respected not only by Central Floridians but by national media members thousands of miles away. And that's what makes me wary about completely trashing the Magic for this decision. Maybe there's something we're not being told.
The Magic aren't saying why they decided to make the move, and Guokas only released a classy statement saying, "While the organization has decided to go in another direction, I appreciate the opportunity that the DeVos family has given me over the years. I want to thank the fans at the games, arena workers and people that I come across around town. I am grateful for their support."
Since neither party is saying what happened, all we can do is speculate. Maybe Guokas, 69, was having health issues like he's had in the past that caused him to miss some games. Maybe there were chemistry issues among the broadcast team. Or maybe, more likely, the organization just wanted a younger voice to appeal to the coveted age 25-54 male demographic.
Let's face it, the rebuilding Magic have gone young with their GM, young with their coach and young with their roster. Maybe they want to go younger in the broadcast booth, too. The common belief is that former Magic player Jeff Turner will replace Guokas opposite play-by-play man David Steele.
Memo to Stuff, the Magic's chubby, floppy-footed mascot: I hope you're renting and not buying because it's only a matter of time before the team replaces you with a fresher, slimmer make-believe dragon.
And how long until "The Fat Guy" has his season tickets revoked because the Magic are looking for a younger, more athletic super fan?
"I love Matt on the broadcasts," said the Fat Guy, aka local attorney Dennis Salvagio. "And my wife really enjoys him. She listens to every word he says and always talks about how much basketball she learns from him."
But Guokas is from another generation of thoughtful, mild-mannered broadcasters who don't quite fit in with the look-at-me style that is so popular in today's TV booth. Guokas is a college professor among stand-up comedians. He explains the whys and what-fors of the game and leaves the ranting and raving to others.
The Magic's management team of CEO Alex Martins, GM Rob Hennigan and Coach Jacque Vaughn, is all about uniformly reciting the company line and spinning a positive message no matter how negative the situation. If you listened to some of the puffy, fluffy dialogue coming from management this season, you'd have thought the Magic were a championship contender instead of the worst team in the league.
Perhaps Guokas, although clearly in the Magic's corner, wasn't enough of an apologist and didn't fall all over himself copiously singing the praises of the Good Ship Lollipop.
At any rate, thanks to Matt Guokas for a job well done.
His was a voice you could trust and believe.
That's rare among the partisan, pom-pom waving provocateurs of today.
His honest analysis will be missed.
It already is.
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