Posted Mar 15 2012 1:28AM - Updated Mar 15 2012 2:04AM
SAN ANTONIO -- Give the NBA schedule maker credit for having the proper sense of poetry or irony to bring the Orlando Magic on the most fateful eve in franchise history to the shadow of the Alamo.
Remember Dwight Howard.
Remember him for his tireless play as a six-time All-Star in the middle of the lineup and for his tiresome twaddle in the middle of a season-long charade.
Remember him for his charming, gleeful smile that lit up the court in two different Orlando arenas as he soared like Superman, sometimes even wearing a cape, and for his disingenuous grin as he tries to wrap himself in a victim's robe.
"They took a chance on me at 18 and what did I do?" Howard said following Wednesday night's 122-111 loss to the Spurs, possibly his last game with the Magic. "I gave them everything I had for eight years. Take a chance again."
At least Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie had a chance to stand and fight honorably against the vast numbers of Santa Anna's army. Howard wants the Magic to surrender, then get down on their knees and beg for mercy.
It was a day that began with reports saying Howard had told his teammates in a morning meeting that he had decided to "opt-in" and remain with the Magic for one more season. And it was an evening that ended with a career 59 percent shooter making a pair of free throws with 87 seconds left to play, probably his last points in an Orlando uniform.
In other words, absolutely anything seemed possible.
Except, of course, for Howard to finally stop playing his will-he-or-won't-games.
"I don't know what you all want out of me," he asked a throng of cameras and reporters.
Well, a straight answer, for a start.
Did he tell his teammates he was staying in Orlando?
"My teammates know what we talked about in that meeting," he said. "You guys already know. It was on the ticker. You guys got your sources."
Howard spent much of the night being aggressive and effective for 22 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots and then spent an hour in the locker room being alternately petulant and aggrieved.
"I love my teammates," he said. "I think we're in a great position to win. Like I told the ownership, I want to stick it out and go from there. They know how I feel. They know how I feel about the city. I've sat down with them on numerous occasions and talked about what we can do together. But I can't do it all by myself. I want them to help. I want them to be involved with changing Orlando. That's always been my goal."
Except when it isn't. Not to be nit-picking, but there was that matter of his trade demand at the outset of the season with his hand-picked preference of New Jersey, Dallas and the L.A. Lakers as his destinations of choice. Then he kinda let it slip that maybe he didn't want to go to L.A. and have to share some of the spotlight with Kobe Bryant.
Howard, it seems, is all about putting himself into the best position to win an NBA championship. Except for when he might be willing to swap a spot with a Magic team currently seeded No. 3 in the Eastern Conference for the spotlight role on a New Jersey team that is scraping near the bottom of the Atlantic Division.
At least Carmelo Anthony made no secret a year ago about his desire to wind up in New York and now, in hindsight, the "Melo-drama" was handled with the aplomb and class of an English butler compared to this farce.
The latest move of going public with a plea for the Magic to "roll the dice" and keep him through the end of the season without any guarantee on his end is the height audaciousness. To mix the gambling metaphor, he wants Orlando ownership to sit down with him at the poker table wearing a blindfold while he sifts through the entire deck and deals himself a royal flush.
"It's on them now," Howard said. "I've done my job. I haven't changed. Despite whatever's being said, I'm still the same person. So if you want to scrutinize me for taking care of Dwight, that's fine."
But if Dwight doesn't mind, team owner Rich DeVos has to take care of the entire Magic organization, the fans that have spent large sums of money to support Howard and the long-term future of the franchise in Orlando. That's why as the trade deadline clock ticks down loudly in their ears today, Magic management has to do whatever it can do get the very most in return. Even if that means shipping him off to an NBA team not on his list, where he would have no intention of re-signing next summer.
When the horn sounded, Howard stood at midcourt, then turned and embraced the Spurs' Tim Duncan, a franchise player who has won four NBA titles, never played the dallying diva role and become almost as much an institution as that Spanish mission in the heart of downtown.
For all that he's become in eight years, they'll remember Dwight Howard in Orlando for what he isn't.
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