Denton: Monumental Day in Team History as Howard Stays

By John Denton
March 15, 2012

ORLANDO – Somewhere between what sounded like a farewell speech in San Antonio and the team plane ride home early Thursday morning, Dwight Howard made up his mind once and for all that he wanted to remain with the Orlando Magic at least through next season.

Howard was so sure that sticking with the only franchise he’s ever played for in eight NBA seasons was the right one that he was ready to sign the documentation waiving his opt-out clause at the hanger that houses the Magic’s team plane.

Even though Howard had repeatedly waffled on staying or going – whereas LeBron James had ``The Decision’’ in 2010, this amounted to ``The Indecision’’ for Howard – the Magic wanted their franchise player to take his time, sleep on it and come back Thursday afternoon with a final decision. It was a risky thing to do, for sure, considering Howard’s flip-flopping over the past week, but it just felt right, Magic President of Basketball Operations Otis Smith said.

``While they were on the flight back home he was going through (the decision to stay in Orlando) then. I still wanted him to sleep on it because I thought that was the best thing for him to do. I would have been less of a man if I had done that (getting Howard to commit on the spot),’’ said Smith, who drove to the Magic hangar in the middle of the night to greet his star center. ``Dwight could have signed (the waiver), but I wouldn’t allow it. We don’t do business like that and I think it’s unfair.’’

Ultimately, Howard stood firm with his commitment to the Magic and made it official Thursday by going against the advice of his legal representation by voiding his option to get out of his contract after this season. Howard will remain with the Magic (28-16) this season and next season as he attempts to bring a championship to Orlando.

``I’m glad this is finally over,’’ a relieved Howard said. ``It’s not as easy as some people think. It’s been very hard. We’re talking a career-changing event. Most people don’t see that. I’m very loyal and I’ve always put loyalty above anything else.’’

Magic CEO Alex Martins, who along with Smith were responsible for negotiating with Howard over the past four months, said that Howard sticking with Magic was a testament to his character, his love for the city and trust in the Magic organization. Howard’s ``will-he-go or will-he-stay’’ morphed into the Magic’s own version of ``March Madness,’’ but Martins said the six-time all-star should be lauded for showing loyalty to his team in a day and age when star players often look to leave teams and join up with others.

``I want to thank Dwight for his loyalty and thank Dwight for recognizing what we as an organization have known for a long, long time – the city of Orlando is a great city and we have the best basketball fans in the world,’’ Martins said. ``We took a risk eight years ago on a high school player when all of the experts said that wasn’t the right decision to make. Over the course of the past eight years Dwight has grown with this organization and we’ve grown with him. Now, we are in a position today – better than ever before – to win a NBA championship. We thank him for sticking with us in our mutual goal to win the NBA championship.’’

Howard said his love of Orlando, his kinship with his teammates and the desire to win now kept him with the Magic when the smarter business decision might have been to opt of his current contract for the long-term security of a multi-year deal. If he would have gone into free agency, he could have signed five-year or four-year pacts worth between $110 and $81 million. None of that mattered, Howard said, when stacked alongside of his love for the Magic, his teammates and the fans.

``Others were looking at it from a business standpoint and what I needed to do if I wanted to accomplish this and that and I totally understand their position. But in my heart I just felt loyalty is better than anything else,’’ Howard stressed. ``I’ve got everything I’ve wanted right here in Orlando. All of that other stuff will come. But the first thing we have to do is win a championship. Right now we have a great opportunity to do that.’’

Howard surprised many in the Magic organization following Tuesday’s defeat of the Miami Heat when he said publicly for the first time that he wanted to remain in Orlando through the end of this season. At the time, he wasn’t willing to commit long term, and said that the Magic might ``have to roll the dice.’’

Martins and Smith admitted on Thursday that they were fully prepared to trade Howard had he been unwilling to waive his opt-out clause. The Magic didn’t want to risk having Howard go into free agency in July and possibly get nothing in return.

Of course, that happened once before in 1996 when Shaquille O’Neal jilted the Magic for the Los Angeles Lakers. Howard even mentioned on Thursday to being shocked when iconic owner Rich DeVos told him, ``We might have to trade you.’’ Martins said the franchise could risk being left empty-handed again. Now, they no longer have to worry about that issue.

``Our goal and our only goal has been to agree with Dwight to sign the waiver,’’ Martins said. ``That’s where we’ve been focused. History plays a role in everything and as we said to our fans, we were not going to allow this organization to suffer the same thing it did back in the mid-90s. We put every effort into making sure that Dwight stayed here. But if Dwight made a different decision we were prepared to make sure we didn’t have the same outcome as we did in the mid-90s just in case.

``But as I’ve said for months now, I knew that Dwight Howard wanted to stay in Orlando,’’ Martins continued. ``Many people have said to me that I was the only person in the country who thought that. But I know Dwight Howard and I knew in the end he was going to make this decision. I’m proud of him for making it. Loyalty is hard to find and he’s got to be commended for the loyalty he’s shown today.’’

Remarkably, Miami Heat star guard Dwyane Wade mocked Howard’s move on Twitter on Tuesday, posting ``Loyalty hahahahaha,’’ on his account. New Orleans guard Jarrett Jack, who knows Howard from their days together in Atlanta, came out in support, posting ``(Shout out) To Dwight Howard for being loyal and not following this whack trend in the league of dudes trying to team up.’’ Jack then ended his Twitter posting with this phrase – Hashtag standonyourown2feet.

Howard got a few tips in dealing with free agency from James’ highly scrutinized departure from Cleveland in 2010. He has also talked for months about making decisions that are best for his own well-being and not doing things simply to satisfy others around him. He acknowledged on Thursday there would be criticism of his decision to pass up free agency and stay in Orlando, but he stressed that it was one made totally because it’s what he wants to do.

``This isn’t their life and I have to do what’s going to make me happy,’’ Howard said. ``I have to do what’s going to make Dwight happy. In the long run, all of those businesses or whatever they know where I’m going to be. I’m going to be here in Orlando and I won’t be hard to find.’’

Howard said his only regret in the whole matter was the effect the trade it had on his teammates and the angst it created among Magic fans. Howard also resented the notion that he was toying with the Magic or stalling as a bargaining ploy. He stressed that he simply did not hurry the matter because of the enormous gravity of the situation and actually appreciated that Smith provided him with extra time on Thursday.

``My life has been put out there for the world to see and all of the flip-flopping and all of that, everybody is going to have something to say about it. But it was a tough decision,’’ Howard said. ``it wasn’t anything that was simple because there were a lot of factors that come into it. But there’s no decision about your life that can be made in one day or in one hour. It takes time.’’

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

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