Dwight Howard agreed on Thursday to waive the early termination option in his contract and remain with the Orlando Magic through the rest of this season and be on their roster at the beginning of 2012-2013.
If you follow the National Basketball Association, then you’ve heard that Howard had an out clause in his contract and informed the Magic that he would not return next season. This forced Orlando into a situation where they had to trade him before the March 15th trade deadline in order to get a talented player, or at least a big money contract that is about to expire. The latter would allow them to offer a lot of money during the offseason to a highly-skilled free agent.
Way back at the beginning of the season, Howard told Magic officials that he would like to be traded to New Jersey, the Los Angeles Lakers or the Dallas Mavericks. But, the Magic made it clear that they wanted to keep Howard and talked with him about adding players to make the team better and even him having some say in who the head coach and general manager would be. So, when March 15th finally arrived, Dwight made the decision to stay. That is, he made the decision to not exercise his option to leave a year early. So, essentially, he’ll be back next year, but they’ll have to do this dance all over again as Dwight will surely want out at that point.
“I'm glad this is finally over,” Howard said at a press conference to announce that he is staying put. “… 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.”
That last sentence is telling. It was the summer 2010 when LeBron James announced during an ESPN primetime television special that he was “taking his talents to South Beach,” to join Dwyane Wade on the Miami Heat and try for an NBA championship down there. Excuse me did I say one? I’m sorry, they’re going for “Not one. Not two. Not three. Not four…,” NBA titles. At least that’s what LeBron told the Miami fans later at a rally inside of American Airlines Arena.
The problem was that LeBron, in all his arrogance when announcing which team he had chosen, forgot about somebody. He forgot the city of Cleveland and all of its’ basketball fans that had supported him and the Cavaliers for the previous seven years. He totally disregarded the fans dissing them, the city and the Cavaliers organization on his way out. He then topped it off with a one-hour TV special to rub their faces in it announce his decision.
After that, the city turned on him. The fans, who once had cheered his name in the stands, were now burning his jersey in the streets. The city quickly removed a giant, downtown billboard with James’ image, outstretched arms appearing to lift the city up and out of its’ troubles. Today, it seems as though he can’t even return to the city that is only a short drive from Akron, Ohio, where he grew up.
Meanwhile, Dwight Howard is a softy. He doesn’t want that. He wants to be loved. Yes, he wants to leave Orlando for greener pastures and the hope of an NBA championship, but at the same time, he doesn’t want people burning his jersey. He doesn’t want the vitriol that pours out of the Cleveland fans’ sweat glands every day since James bounced.
It seems as though Dwight began to realize how Magic fans were going to react upon his departure. He had set the tone for this when he made it clear that he wasn’t coming back, which can only be interpreted by the fans as “this team is not good enough and I’m never going to win a title here.”
So, Howard clearly learned something watching James bungle his way through a player option and decided he wasn’t going out like that. So, after more than half a season of anticipation and worry by the Orlando Magic fans, the organization and even Dwight himself, he decided to stay one more year, appeasing the fans for now, and making a public statement about loyalty along the way.
Chris Wilder is a Philadelphia and New York-based journalist who covers sports for the Associated Press and ESPNU.com. He also writes for Black America Web and Common Ground News Service. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of The Source Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ceewild