Howard Elated About All-Star Weekend Except Trade Talk

By John Denton
February 24, 2012

ORLANDO – One by one on Friday, Orlando Magic superstar center Dwight Howard swatted away questions about his future the way he often blocks shots in games. Instead, Howard beamed with pride over his team and his hometown city being on display to the rest of the basketball world all weekend.

Much of the reason why the NBA’s All-Star celebration has come to Orlando, of course, is because of the vast influence that Howard has had while helping the Magic become an elite franchise. The Magic have the third-most regular season and playoff wins in the NBA since the 2008-09 and in the dazzling, state-of-the-art Amway Center, they play in an arena considered the finest in North America.

In the eyes of some, the Amway Center is ``The House that Dwight Built’’ with his many accomplishments over the eight years he’s been in Orlando. And this weekend, Howard is taking great delight in the fact that the basketball world will have its eyes trained on Orlando.

``It means a lot of me to have the Amway Center on display and to have the world here for a weekend celebration. This is going to be a great time for all of us and that’s the focus for everybody,’’ Howard said. ``We just want the fans to have fun. And just being home all weekend is great for me.’’

Magic fans have to take delight in the fact that Howard still refers to Orlando as ``home.’’ The Magic are the only franchise that he’s ever played for, but his future in Central Florida could be in peril in the coming weeks because of his submission of a trade request prior to the season. The NBA’s trade deadline is March 15 and the Magic have to decide in the coming weeks whether or not to deal their franchise center or risk losing him this summer with no compensation when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

But Howard is determined to not let his uncertain future overshadow All-Star Weekend in Orlando. He is, in many ways, the unofficial grand marshal of the event with a busy appearance schedule that would make a politician blush.

Howard was the host of a party Thursday night, and will be at celebratory events each of the next three nights. He did a bevy of media row interviews on Friday morning after getting just two hours of sleep. On Friday night, he was the coach in the celebrity game. For Saturday, he’s planning a Magic get-together to support teammate Ryan Anderson in the 3-Point Shootout. And on Sunday, Howard will make his sixth appearance in the All-Star Game after garnering a whopping 1.6 million votes, the most among any NBA player.

So when questions arose during his media session as to his potential future in New York, Dallas or Los Angeles, Howard batted them away the way the way he has the past three years while winning the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award each time.

``If it’s not about the All-Star Weekend, then I don’t want to talk about it,’’ Howard said.

If anyone knows what this weekend is like for Howard, it is fellow all-star Carmelo Anthony, who forced his way out of Denver last season and ultimately landed with the New York Knicks. Anthony has talked repeatedly with Howard about what he went through last season and his advice for this weekend was to try and block out the distractions and have fun.

``I told him that this weekend was going to be a zoo for him, but at least he’s home and I wanted him to be able to enjoy himself even with all of the stuff that’s going on out there,’’ said Anthony, whose media session was just steps away from Howard’s. ``I don’t want him to have a bitter taste with this experience.’’

Anthony said the daily drama surrounding his future took an immense toll on him – even though he tried hiding it from the fans, media and his own team at the time. He has culled from their conversations that Howard is dealing with some of the same struggles.

``I was affected by it, but I don’t think anybody saw it. I didn’t really show it to anybody, but the times when I was really affected by it was when I laid my head down on the pillow and couldn’t sleep,’’ Anthony said.

``I already know Dwight’s going through it hard. If he goes out there and doesn’t play well they say he’s tanking it. And if he plays well, they say, well he doesn’t care anyway,’’ Anthony continued. ``He’s kind of in a lose-lose situation and that’s sad, but this is the life we live as NBA players.’’

Howard touched on a wide range of issues during his 28-minute session with the media, such as his pick to win the dunk contest (Utah’s Jeremy Evans), the 3-point Shootout (Anderson, of course) and his thoughts on Knicks sensation Jeremy Lin. Asked by a Chinese reporter if there was any way to stop ``Linsanity,’’ Howard responded: ``He hasn’t run into The Great Wall of Orlando yet.’’

Howard preferred to direction the focus back toward his Magic, who at 22-13 own the Eastern Conference’s third-best record and the NBA’s fifth-best mark at the halfway point. Howard said he’s been pleased with how his teammates have dealt with the daily rumor mill and uncertainty surrounding his future in Orlando.

``We’re playing great basketball right now. We’re third in the East and we feel like we really haven’t hit our peak yet,’’ Howard said. ``Despite everything that’s been going on around us we feel like we as a team have an opportunity to win a championship.’’

Howard said one common misconception when it comes to him possibly leaving Orlando is that fans are upset with him. Howard said he’s experienced little backlash from a mostly adoring Magic fanbase. And the reaction has been the same inside the Amway Center, where Howard’s exploits has been mostly cheered.

``A lot of fans here say whatever you do we’re behind you 100 percent,’’ Howard said. ``The fans here in Orlando have always been so supportive of me. They’ve shown me nothing but love. This city means a lot to me. My home is here and my home will always be in Orlando.’’

Dismissive of the future, Howard was happy to embrace the present on Friday. He said he is taking seriously his role of being an ambassador for Orlando and the Magic and wants this All-Star Game to come off without a hitch. After all, the event likely wouldn’t be in Orlando without all that Howard has achieved in Orlando.

``I’m really proud of what we have accomplished as an organization, a city and a team,’’ Howard said. ``We made it to The Finals and have had a lot of great years. And now it’s great having the All-Star Game here so that people all over the world can see what we have here in Orlando.’’

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 jd41898@aol.com

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Magic and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.





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