HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Has the one option few people considered before now become the play for Magic center Dwight Howard? What if he opts-in for the final year of his current deal and stays through the 2012-13 season instead of opting out and heading to free agency this summer?
That means we can pack up all of this Magic drama and break it out again next year, provided what Howard reportedly told his teammates and Magic management this afternoon in San Antonio is legitimate.
Well, it’s not that simple actually.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports tweeted that at least three of Howard’s teammates present in a meeting on Wednesday indicated that, “Next year was not even mentioned in the meeting … He told us he was “all-in” for this season.” That would not constitute any change at all from what he said after Tuesday night’s win over the Heat in Orlando, when Howard made it clear that he wanted to finish this season in a Magic uniform.
After asking for a trade during training camp and then letting it be known that he wanted to exercise the early termination option in his contract and test free agency, for Howard to roll that back now — after the Magic balked at his request to stay in Orlando through the end of the regular season and not be traded — would require a leap of faith the Magic aren’t willing to make without Howard’s signature on a document saying he will play out that final year of his deal (where he will earn $19.5 million).
No one is sure if Howard gave that sort of concrete assurance, so this could all be speculation flushed down the trade deadline rumor mill drain. But one thing that is clear, according to a source close to the situation, is that for months Howard has been in the middle of an emotional tug of war between forces that want him to play elsewhere (his agent) and forces (family and close friends) that would like to see him stay in Orlando long-term.
Howard has seemed conflicted all along, never coming out and saying whether he would or would not consider staying in Orlando. It’s opened up his situation to all sorts of speculation. He’s never come out and explained his plans, not that he had to. But he has allowed others to define the circumstances.
This latest development, if true, takes him off of the trade and free-agent table this year and allows the Magic to focus on their season. They are currently in the third slot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase behind Chicago and Miami. With Howard, the Magic are a legitimate challenger for the Eastern Conference crown.
Until Howard speaks up, publicly — the Magic play in San Antonio on Wednesday night — we won’t know for sure what his true intentions really are.
UPDATE 5:55 p.m. from TNT’s David Aldridge:
The Orlando Magic, unsure about the intentions of franchise player Dwight Howard-who told teammates Wednesday morning he planned to “opt in” and play the final year of his contract–have told Howard he has to get that paperwork into the NBA office by the end of the day, according toba source. Otherwise, the Magic will proceed with potential trade discussions before Thursday’s 3 p.m. deadline.
Howard, who has long been expected to opt out of the last year (2012-13) of his deal and become a free agent at season’s end, said after Tuesday’s game with Miami that he wanted to stay with the Magic through the end of the season. It was the first time that Howard-who asked to be traded during training camp- had expressed any desire to stay in Orlando, which has been trying for weeks to convince him to stay.
The request was a “complete surprise” to the Magic, according to a league source. So was Wednesday’s declaration.
But Orlando is not convinced Howard genuinely wants to stay.
The Magic have asked Howard for months to commit just to playing next year. His sudden acquiescence, a day before the trade deadline, is being viewed skeptically by the Magic-hence the demand that both Howard and agent Dan Fegan sign by Wednesday evening. The Magic “can’t roll the dice,” the league source said.
UPDATE 8:15 p.m. from Fran Blinebury:
Prior to tonight’s game against the Spurs in San Antonio, Dwight Howard refused to discuss reports from earlier today that he had told the Magic he was committing himself to remain with the team through next year.
“After the game. Right now, we got to win,” Howard said in the pre-game locker room. “The team meeting was between the team. That’s all that matters.
“It’s frustrating. It’s bad. That’s it. I don’t want you all twisting my words. I’m sick of that.”
Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy was equally frustrated with the situation.
“Look, I don’t even want to talk about it,” he said. “It’s so tiresome. Nothing is new. I’ve been dealing with this for three months. There’s nothing fresh to me. I’m tired of it. Talk to somebody else about it.”
UPDATE 8:55 p.m. from TNT’s David Aldridge:
A source with knowledge of the discussions confirmed Wednesday that Magic center Dwight Howard will not opt in and play for Orlando in the 2012-13 season.