Denton: Dwight Showing More Offensive Progress

By John Denton
December 15, 2011

ORLANDO – To those who witnessed the Orlando Magic’s scrimmage on Thursday, Dwight Howard was his usual dominant self. Only this time instead of using his considerable muscle, he instead flexed some finesse. Time and again, Howard showed off the growth in his game by anticipating double teams by stepping back and draining several jump shots.

But no amount of good news from Howard on the court, it seems, can offset the fact that there’s been no movement in his stance of wanting a trade from the Magic.

Orlando still has every intention of trying to retain their franchise center, but Howard said on Thursday that his desire to play elsewhere remains firm.

``There is no back and forth. There’s no a back and forth. We’re not going to get into it (again) and talk about that every day about me getting traded. (The trade request) still stands and we know what is going on,’’ Howard said. ``I talked to (President of Basketball Operations/GM) Otis (Smith) today and what we talk about is going to stay between me and him.’’

Howard, who can opt out of his contract after this season and become an unrestricted free agent, requested a trade last week from the only franchise that he’s ever played for in seven NBA seasons. His agent, Dan Fegan, was given permission to negotiate potential deals with the New Jersey Nets, Los Angeles Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks – the three teams that Howard has said he would sign a long-term extension with.

Howard can make $29 million more by signing with the Magic or by getting traded before Jan. 1, retaining his ``Bird Rights’’ and then signing an extension with a potential new team. The Magic can keep Howard through the season or up until the March 15 trade deadline, but they run the risk of losing their most important player with no compensation in return. The franchise has been through that disastrous situation already when Shaquille O’Neal bolted for the Lakers in 1996 and it took the Magic 12 years to win another playoff series – which came in Howard’s fourth NBA season.

Howard’s refusal to soften his stance seems to indicate that he would prefer a trade sooner rather than later. He said Thursday that the continuous rumors have been distracting, but he’s managed to keep his focus on the Magic’s work in training camp. And the team’s co-captain has instructed his teammates to do the same.

``It hasn’t calmed down, but like I told the guys, `I’m here right now and that’s the only thing that matters,’’’ Howard said. ``There’s no need to talk about any trades or whatever is going on on ESPN and the paper. Don’t bring it in the locker room and don’t bring it on the court. Our job is to get better and that’s the focus.’’

Already the only player in NBA history to win the Defensive Player of the Year award three straight seasons and a four-time first-team All-NBA pick, Howard went to work on improving his game during the five-month lockout. Howard’s accuracy on his jump shot is better than ever now and his comfort with either hand around the rim is sound.

And the career 59.8 percent free throw shooter has worked hard on his form from the stripe by working with a shooting coach and drilling tirelessly. He shot hundreds on Thursday, making as many as eight of 10 in several instances.

``We tried to (double-team Howard), but Dwight shot a lot of catch, turn quick jumpers before the double-team could come and he shot the ball well,’’ Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. ``His free throws have definitely gotten better, there’s no question about that. He’s shooting the ball with confidence right now. I thought he had a good practice again today, which is not surprising because he’s a darn good player.’’

The Magic will be off on Friday, but will be at the Amway Center on Saturday at 11 a.m. for a free public scrimmage that will give fans their first look at the reconstructed team. Fans will get their first look at newcomers Glen Davis, Von Wafer, Larry Hughes, Gabe Pruitt and rookies Daniel Orton, Justin Harper and DeAndre Liggins.

Fans will also be able to pick up ``Stay Dwight’’ stickers at the Magic team store at the Amway Center. What effect those stickers and the fan reaction have on Howard is up in the air, and on Thursday he wasn’t willing to venture a guess as to whether he will be cheered or jeered.

``I have no idea. It’s a day for us to get better as a team and that’s how we have to look at it,’’ Howard said. ``It’s going to be great to have our fans come out, watch us practice and support us. I don’t think (the fan reaction) will be any different. If it is, then that’s something we’ll have to deal with. We’re going to go hard. It’s the first time Magic fans will see us all together.’’

John Denton writes for John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at

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