HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — It’s time Orlando. It’s just time.
Dwight Howard has made his bones, saying he wants to stick around in a Magic uniform through the end of this season (so he can enter free agency this summer and head to the Nets and play alongside Deron Williams?) and finish this season — and perhaps his tenure with the Magic — the right way, so to speak.
“We’ve been talking, like I said, for a while,” told reporters after the Magic’s 104-98 overtime win over the Heat. “I told them I want to finish this season out and give our team, give our fans some hope for the future. But I feel they have to roll the dice. It might be tough, but I feel we’ve got a great opportunity. But they’ve got to roll it.”
Really? Roll the dice?
That leaves the Magic with one and only one move to make between now and Thursday’s trade deadline.
It’s time for Dwight to go, Orlando. As painful as it might sound to read it (or hear it if you say it out loud), you have to move him. There’s no way you put your franchise or your city through the trauma of Howard walking out of town in free agency, the way Shaquille O’Neal did years ago, leaving a gaping hole in the heart of a franchise and city until Howard came along.
Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel watched this scenario play out 16 years ago, somewhat unexpectedly then. So he knows the devastation that is the aftermath of the world’s best big man leaving the city that adores him (while heading into the prime of his career).
Same rock, same hard place for them no matter what he says now.
A “maybe” from Dwight is a no.
The Magic can’t take this gamble and let him stroll away with no compensation. They can’t be another team in his free-agent pool.
They have to try to trade him, perhaps to the Lakers or the Nets, two teams on the trade-me manifesto he delivered during training camp in December.
The Magic and CEO Alex Martins have exhausted all possibilities of persuading him to sign an extension, not an extended stay.
They must receive something in return to avoid repeating the Shaq gaffe, 16 years later.
They’ve run out of time and hope and pep talks and skull sessions. The trade deadline is Thursday, Martins said they will speak with Howard again before the clock strikes 3 p.m.
Howard can skip the free-agent exercise if he’s in the uniform of the Nets, with New Jersey/New York being his preferred destination all along.
Surely, the Nets wouldn’t have a cruel sense of humor and complete a trade quick enough so that Howard could play at Amway Center when the teams are scheduled to meet Friday.
That would be too much for fans to bear, as if the situation hasn’t been surreal enough.
So, perhaps, your next Magic center is Brook Lopez, if it’s not Andrew Bynum.
Cut them some slack. Have patience.
They will definitely make more free throws – so do most folks during halftime promotions — but they won’t ever resemble Dwight.
The Magic’s inability to convince Howard to stick around is not an indictment of that organization or city. It’s not even about Stan Van Gundy and Otis Smith, the coach and GM who will go down in Orlando history as the ones who presided over things (if and) when Howard left town. This is about Howard and his desire to play elsewhere, which is his prerogative.
But that Magic better be proactive in this situation if they want their fans to stay on board. They better get something for Howard. The second-best center in the league (Bynum) or a package of picks and players from the Nets is better than the alternative.
One way or another, though, it’s time to let Dwight go, Orlando.