LeBron James’ decision has caused some consternation among the Magic faithful to say the least. Among other things it has made Orlando fans realize (again) how precious and small the window for a championship can be. And Dwight Howard, unlike (maybe) LeBron James, is very committed to winning — and having a fun time and getting attention, etc.
Orlando fans have some rights to start worrying Howard may leave. Mike Bianchi of The Orlando Sentinel has already brought up the possibility and told fans to brace for the inevitable “Summer of Dwight.”
For the record, Dwight Howard’s contract runs out in 2013 (Eds. Note: Howard does have a player option in 2012, which would make the rest of this article pretty moot). That means a guaranteed two more years (barring a lockout) with Howard in a Magic uniform. If you ask me even that is too far down the road to be planning. James has done tons of damage to how fans speculate about future maneuvering. That July 2013 date is going to be looming large in many Magic fans’ minds.
Despite what many people may be thinking with Orlando’s seeming inactivity this summer — I would contend Orlando made the majority of its moves last season, but that just depends on what offseason building philosophy you subscribe to — that there really is not a plan to retain Howard. Surely if Orlando does not win a title, the thinking might go, Howard will seriously consider leaving Orlando behind.
Unlike James’ departure, it might be easier for the Magic to swallow. Howard seems like a very loyal guy, making me believe he has not begun to think about free agency like James may or may not have at this point in his career — Update: and with the likelihood of a new collective bargaining agreement, he would stand to lose a lot of money by opting out in 2012 (thanks Sean for setting my facts a little straighter).
But Howard is also about winning titles. The Magic have done everything they feel they can to this point to provide Howard a championship-winning roster. If Howard feels he needs a fresh start, it would be tough to blame him. Sometimes things just don’t work. But unlike the Cavaliers, Otis Smith has a plan for July 2013.
Not only is Howard a free agent, but as of now (including potential player and team options) so too will Jameer Nelson, JJ Redick, Ryan Anderson, Brandon Bass, and Rashard Lewis. In fact, the only current players that will be on Orlando’s roster for the summer of 2013 are Marcin Gortat (entering the final year of his deal), Chris Duhon (the same), Quentin Richardson (I believe he has an option that year) and Daniel Orton. They would make a combined $11.6 million that year. Otis Smith may have signed Lewis to a bloated max contract — the merits of which will be debated until Orlando lifts the Larry O’Brien Trophy or 2013 — but he also timed it to expire the same year his prized center would be available on the open market. It is safe to assume Lewis will not be receiving anything near his almost $23.8 million 2012 salary that summer.
It is difficult to predict how much money Orlando could have that summer, but if things stay the same (they won’t, but humor me) and the salary cap hovers around $60 million, the Magic would potentially have somewhere near $45-50 million to spend in free agency. No matter how you slice that up, it is enough to resign Howard and add another max-level player. But that is getting ahead of ourselves.
There is still the business of negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement, future trades and maneuvering and even the prospect of Howard signing an extension. All the rules of free agency and negotiation are expected to change after next summer’s negotiations. Plus the Magic are in win-now mode and will make any trade or acquisition the team feels it needs to win a championship, regardless of luxury tax or future consequences (see Gortat, Bass and Redick signings).
But you would have to believe this summer has taught Smith a lot about preparing for free agency. No GM is under as much pressure as Smith to deliver a title now. He has one of the most prized possessions in the NBA on his roster and only one thing will ensure he stays. But if he does not, credit Smith with (for now) setting his team up to bounce back quickly — at least to mediocrity — if Howard were to depart.
It seems the Cavaliers are stuck in the mud in trying to recover from The Decision. It seems Orlando is sure to be ready to strike in free agency (whatever form it takes) in the summer of 2013 one way or the other.