Orlando is nearly a month into the Gilbert Arenas and company experiment. The results have been good with the team going 9-2 since Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu, Earl Clark and Arenas arrived.
But as Dwight Howard constantly reminds us, the team is not playing for wins in January. It wants wins in April, May and June. The success of the trades likely will not be measured until after the NBA Champion is crowned.
And ultimately, it will not be judged until the summer of 2012. We all know what happens then.
So does the rest of the NBA.
Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel constantly reminds us of how the fans and his paper helped push Shaquille O’Neal out of Orlando and to Los Angeles — even if he had his heart and mind set on going there from the very beginning. When the trade occurred, he wrote the deals had an eye on pleasing Dwight Howard.
As much as we may not like to hear or talk about it, Orlando is quickly becoming Cleveland trying to please LeBron James into staying. The summer of 2012 looms, especially with the uncertainty of collective bargaining.
And the catcalls from Howard’s New York are already coming. Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News reported sources close to Howard say he thinks he could do better marketing-wise in a bigger market like, say, Los Angeles.
While I am not sure the Lakers would be able to acquire Howard without giving up at least Andrew Bynum, affording Orlando something of an escape clause in this whole deal unlike the Cavaliers had with LeBron, it is unsettling to hear these rumors.
It is far in the future and a lot can happen in the meantime, including the Magic winning a title which would almost assuredly keep Howard in Orlando, but believe that the summer of 2012 is in Otis Smith’s as well as Howard’s minds.
On more than one occasion over the last two weeks, Howard has complained about some season ticket holders who wore Celtics jerseys and cheered for Boston during the Christmas Day game. He made the complaint to the press after the game and was still talking about it a few days later — while Gilbert Arenas tried to tell him the small market of Orlando is going to have visiting fans come in from big markets like Los Angeles (for the Lakers), Boston and even Miami. They were doing this as the locker room was opened to the media before the Dec. 30 game against the Knicks.
I know my naivete is gone. It is very realistic that Howard could be in another uniform after 2012.
But the Magic can still do a lot to convince him to stay. Winning a championship would do wonders. Getting back to the Finals might be enough.
A lot of what could keep Howard in Orlando though might be out of the team’s power. Who could foresee Miami loading up with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh? Who would think New Jersey would be in a position to acquire Carmelo Anthony, Richard Hamilton and Chauncey Billups in one trade?
The Eastern Conference became super competitive seemingly overnight with the Magic right in the middle of it. Yes, Orlando is going to be around a lot longer than Boston and should be among the top three or four teams in the East for a while (if Howard were to stay).
The only problem is the Lakers are pretty much the only team out West considering how long San Antonio and Dallas have been around and how old their rosters are. The easier path to a championship might be out West. And even despite the Magic’s best efforts, it might simply not be enough.
Howard ultimately is going to decide what he does with his future. I think, judging from what he has said to the media in the past, that he does care what people think of him and that he wants to be considered among the game’s elite. Because he is a center, he faces a different standard of criticism from pundits and experts (unfairly), so his only way to the kind of success he wants is a championship.
And Howard deserves and should want to go get it any way he can. You hope it is in Orlando.
This argument and the above statements are probably going to be repeated ad nauseum in this space until the summer of 2012 or whenever Howard makes his decision. All the Magic can do is put themselves in the best position to deliver that title Howard covets. If they do that, you assume he will stay. But there are never any guarantees.
The storm clouds are gathering. A nine-game winning streak now is a positive step and a good sign for the team’s future success. But how this team does in April, May and June matters much much more.