"I know he has," Van Gundy answered.

Asked how he knew that to be true, Van Gundy responded, "I was told it was true by people in our management. So, right from the top."

Howard was standing in a nearby corridor, out of earshot, unaware of the bombshell Van Gundy had dropped. The All-NBA center, eager to dismiss the rumors, approached Van Gundy, put his arm around the coach and ridiculed the television reporter who had reported the story.

Van Gundy eventually walked away, and reporters peppered Howard with questions about Van Gundy’s claim.

Martins said Monday that Howard “never asked me to make this decision.”

“Yes, their relationship was a challenge, but Dwight Howard never asked me to fire Stan Van Gundy,” Martins added.

Still, early April’s episode infuriated Howard.

He would play two more games under Van Gundy, including a dramatic win in Philadelphia in which he experienced persistent back spasms but scored 20 points and collected 22 rebounds.

Howard ultimately aggravated his back again during a team practice, leading him to seek a second opinion from spine surgeon Robert Watkins Sr., and Howard never played another second for Van Gundy. On April 20, Howard underwent surgery in Marina del Rey, Calif., to repair a herniated disk and remove disk fragments. Howard remained in the Los Angeles area to rehabilitate his back and did not join the team for any of its playoff games.

Magic players clearly did not give up on Van Gundy or on each other. Even without Howard and without injured starting small forward Hedo Turkoglu, the Magic beat the Sixers at Amway Center on April 16, nearly beat the Boston Celtics in Boston on April 18 and pushed the Utah Jazz to overtime in Salt Lake City on April 21.

The team won the first game of its playoff series against the Indiana Pacers and lost the critical fourth game in overtime. Orlando lost the series in five games.

The playoff exit was the Magic’s second consecutive first-round defeat, and although the result may have been different if Howard had been healthy, much of the blame for the roster fell on Smith, 48.

Martins said he met with Smith on Monday and that Smith was uncomfortable with the idea of firing Van Gundy. Then, according to Martins, both he and Smith decided it would be best to part ways.

Smith did not return messages from the Sentinel on Monday.

A former Magic player, Smith served two seasons as the team’s director of player development before he and Dave Twardzik essentially served as co-GMs during the 2005-06 season. Their first big decision turned out to have disastrous consequences. They used the 11th pick in the 2005 NBA draft to select 6-foot-10 big man Fran Vázquez from Spain; Vázquez chose to remain in Europe and has never signed with the Magic.

Smith was promoted to the general manager’s job on May 3, 2006 and was promoted again to president of basketball operations (while retaining the title of GM) on July 28, 2010. His tenure was marked by aggressive moves that were bankrolled — often at substantial cost — by the deep-pocketed DeVos family.

In the 2008 draft, he used the 22nd overall pick to select Courtney Lee out of Western Kentucky, and Lee would go on to start 42 games as a rookie that regular season.

That year, after All-Star point guard Jameer Nelson suffered what appeared to be a season-ending shoulder injury, Smith engineered a three-team trade that brought veteran point guard Rafer Alston to the Magic.

Alston provided a needed jolt and critical experience, and with Alston starting at the point, the Magic upset the defending NBA champion Celtics in the conference semifinals and stunned LeBron JamesCleveland Cavaliers in the conference finals to reach the NBA Finals, where the team lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in five games.

Smith didn’t stand pat after the Finals loss to the Lakers.