By John Denton
December 10, 2011
ORLANDO – The day that Orlando Magic fans feared and dreaded has come with superstar center Dwight Howard finally admitting that he’s asked to be traded from the only franchise he’s ever played for in the NBA.
In a calm and measured 32-minute colloquy Saturday night, Howard explained why he’s turned his focus away from the Magic and to a new basketball life in which he will be playing elsewhere in the future.
On one hand, Howard professed his love for Orlando, Magic fans who have cheered his every dunk and the organization that drafted him first overall in 2004 as a scrawny 18-year-old high school player. But on the other hand, he fumed about not having enough input into personnel decisions, the franchise’s inability to upgrade the talent around him and perceived sleights from this summer. He admitted that the first-round playoff loss to the Atlanta Hawks last spring sent him into a spiral and led to him making the decision that he would be better off playing elsewhere.
``A lot of people are going to be hurt and I’m hurt because I love this place. But I have to do what’s best for me,’’ Howard said as he was surrounded by approximately 25 members of the news media. ``People can say that’s selfish, but you only get one time around the track and one life and you have to live your life to the best of your ability. I have to do what I feel is right and if I feel a certain way I have to go with it.’’
Howard, who turned 26 on Thursday, balked at questions that he was seeking a larger market to play in because of his off-court endeavors in acting and television. Howard said at this point there’s nothing that the franchise can do to change his mind and that he is ``at peace’’ with his decision to move onto another franchise when a trade is consummated at some point.
``They already know how I feel. We’ve sat down and talked plenty of times this summer – before the lockout and after the lockout,’’ Howard said defiantly. ``They know what I’ve asked for and what we need as a team. Nothing that we’ve talked about has changed or anything. So that’s why I’ve asked Otis what I have asked him.
``I’m at peace, but I know a lot of other people are going to be upset by this,’’ Howard continued. ``I’ve gotten every message that you can think of from Twitter to Facebook, to this and that, and I’m this kind of guy. … I understand the fans’ position. It’s like you want a divorce and they didn’t. So I totally understand, but that’s just how I feel about it.’’
Magic President of Basketball Operations-General Manager Otis Smith said that he has authorized Howard’s agent, Dan Fegan, to negotiate the parameters of a potential trade with three teams: the Los Angeles Lakers, the Dallas Mavericks and the New Jersey Nets.
The Mavs are the defending champs and Howard is fond of owner Mark Cuban, but Dallas lacks assets the Magic would be interested in. The Lakers have expressed a wiliness to trade center Andrew Bynum, power forward Pau Gasol and small forward Lamar Odom, but they could be close to landing New Orleans’ star guard Chris Paul instead of Howard. Nets guard Deron Williams and Howard are close friends and the Brooklyn-bound franchise could be Howard’s preferred landing choice, but the Nets have little to exchange for an elite superstar of Howard’s ilk.
Still, the Magic are determined to not let Howard get away with nothing in return. Shaquille O’Neal devastated the franchise in 1996 by bolting for the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Magic didn’t win a playoff series for the next 12 years. Now, the Magic hope to land multiple talented players to cushion the loss of their franchise player.
``(A trade) is what he’s requested from this point in time and we’ll see what happens from there,’’ Smith said. ``I mean it’s surprising if you invest 7 ½ years in a player of his nature. So it’s always surprising. But like I said there’s no forgone conclusion that at the end of the day that he doesn’t go and stay.
``When you invest seven years in a player and that’s what he decides, then you have to deal with that from that angle,’’ Smith continued. ``But it’s not the end of the world. Like I said before, the Orlando Magic franchise is what it’s about. We like to make this into an individual game, but the fact of the matter is it’s a team sport. And we’ll continue to move forward.’’
Howard was vague about many of the reasons why he would prefer to play elsewhere. However it did say that a lack of input into personnel decisions rubbed him the wrong way. He was outspoken after the 2009 run to the NBA Finals that the Magic did not keep the roster intact by re-signing Hedo Turkoglu.
Other additions such Vince Carter, Gilbert Arenas and Brandon Bass didn’t work out as planned failed to put another superstar player around Howard. He said that the management team rarely sought his opinion about the kind of players needed on the roster. Sources within the Magic organization said that Howard was often consulted about transactions, and as recently as this week Howard pushed for Arenas not to be waived from the roster.
``Just one thing that I’ve always wanted since I’ve been here was to be more involved with what goes on with this team and that hasn’t happened,’’ Howard said. ``I’ve been here for seven years and gave everything that I’ve got for the city and I feel like I deserve to have a voice on the team.’’
Howard said he would have preferred a situation like in Dallas where superstar power forward Dirk Nowitzki is allowed to have input with owner Mark Cuban. Dallas made a huge acquisition of Tyson Chandler last summer at the behest of Nowitzki, and it paid off in the form of a championship.
``You look at a guy like Dirk (Nowitzki) and him and Mark (Cuban) have a great relationship. If Dirk told Mark, `Hey, I think this is the direction our team is going, this is the kind of players we need,’ then I think Mark would listen,’’ Howard said. ``That doesn’t mean Mark would have to make a rash decision because of something a player said, but he would really try to find out from the (star) player what he needs around him in order to win.
``The (Magic) owners know how much I have been committed to this city. I have worked hard night-in and night-out,’’ Howard said. ``So when I said earlier in the Vibe (Magazine) article about me doing all I can do, I’ve worked my butt off the last seven years. I’ve given blood, sweat and tears. Every player who has been on the team and has become a franchise player would love to have their opinions heard.’’
Howard said that the Magic have given him no timetable as to when they might consummate a trade. In order to retain his Bird rights and sign a five-year contract with 7.5 percent annual raises, he must be traded by Jan. 1 – six months before the July 1 start of free agency. If he’s traded after Jan. 1, Howard will only be able to sign with his new team for four seasons and 4.5 percent annual raises – a difference of $29 million.
Howard said he won’t allow the swirling trade talks and the fact that he could be in his final days or weeks with the Magic affect his play on the court. He even said that he hopes he’s in a Magic jersey when they open the regular season on Christmas Day against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
``I’ve been thinking about it all summer. I’ve thought about what I want to do with my career and what I want to do and how I want to be remembered. So that’s how I came up with the decisions I have made,’’ Howard said. ``You’ll have to talk to the people in charge (as when a trade will come). I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m not the boss, I’m a player. I’m going to continue to go out every night and when we have practice I’ll give 100 percent. That’s what I’m supposed to do because this is my job. I’m not doing anything halfway because I’ve asked for a trade. A lot of my teammates know, but while I’m on the court and in the locker room I’m going to be the same Dwight.’’
But clearly, nothing will be the same with Howard and the Magic now that their franchise player has made it clear he wants to play elsewhere.
John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org
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