Did Dwight Howard ask team to fire its coach?

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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.

Kraft, Pats still bitter: NFL 'really messed this up badly'

Kraft, Pats still bitter: NFL 'really messed this up badly'

It's been almost two years exactly since the Deflategate saga began during the AFC title game between the Colts and Patriots on Jan. 18, 2015.

Since then, Robert Kraft has expressed his displeasure at how the whole thing was handled by the league -- particularly as it relates to the treatment of quarterback Tom Brady -- on multiple occasions. And according to a story in the New York Times, that feeling hasn't subsided.

"Sometimes, the league really messes up, and I think they really messed this up badly," said Kraft . "But we’ve all agreed to subjugate our right to disrupt everything.

"I mean, we can, but we’re a partnership. There’s jealousy, there’s envy, there’s stupidity. Sometimes, life is unfair, and you have to suck it up and move on and not use it as an excuse."

Brady served his four-game suspension to start this season, and Kraft opted to accept the league's punishment for the team following the 2014 season: They were docked two draft picks (a first and a fourth) and fined $1 million.

The piece includes Kraft's thoughts on President-elect Donald Trump ("Loyalty is important to me, and he has been a wonderful friend," Kraft said), as well as comments from others on how Kraft has handled his situation ("I think Bob has exhibited disagreement, but he’s also very capable of making and influencing change," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said). 

You can read the full piece here.

Bell excused from Steelers practice for 'personal reasons'

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Bell excused from Steelers practice for 'personal reasons'

FOXBORO -- The Patriots have had perfect attendance at each of their last two practices. The Steelers, on the other hand, have been working with less than a full deck.

All-Pro running back Le'Veon Bell has been conspiculously absent from Pittsburgh's practices each of the last two days. On Wednesday, he was listed on the injury report as a non-participant due to non-injury related reasons. On Thursday, coach Mike Tomlin announced that Bell had been excused from practice due to "personal reasons."

Tomlin added that Bell will be ready to go against the Patriots on Sunday so it seems as though the team is painting this as a nothing-to-see-here situation. And it probably is. Whether or not Bell practices at all this week won't necessarily have any bearing on the AFC title game; if he's healthy, he'll be a factor. 

If for some reason he doesn't follow up his 170-yard performance against the Chiefs with another strong game, however, people will wonder how his preparation was impacted by missing out on the first two of his team's on-the-field sessions this week.