I have been as quiet as the Magic on this trade deadline day. Part of it was because I wanted to wait until all the dust settled. Part of it was because I was working on another post looking ahead to the future (that will still be coming). But mainly it was to gather my thoughts on a wild and emotional Wednesday night that had Dwight Howard going and staying all within six hours.
Dwight Howard put all doubt to rest when he signed the waiver of his early termination option, committing to play for the Magic through the 2012-13 season.
The Magic held a press conference with Magic CEO Alex Martins, President of Basketball Operations Otis Smith and, of course, Howard himself to announce this decision. One that stressed long-term themes that seemed to alleviate concerns about beyond next year. Dwight Howard specifically would not address that.
His words had not changed drastically. He was still asking for the franchise and fans to trust that he knew what he was doing not only to make the franchise better but to trust him that he would continue to play hard with uncertainty surrounding him.
Only this time you could see how relief on his face. You could sense just how relieved he was to have this behind him, even if he was not 100 percent settled on his decision. Howard joked (I think) that he was still wavering on signing even in the morning after committing again.
The message was clear from Howard, this was an incredibly tough decision — one not to be made lightly — and one he continued to wrestle with until the deadline drew nearer and nearer. But ultimately, Howard said, loyalty won out and he had to take a risk in the franchise much like it took a risk on him eight years ago when they drafted him with the top overall pick.
“I’m glad this is finally over,” Howard said (h/t John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com). “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.”
Howard said the decision was complicated more by the fact that it played out so publicly. Again, this may be another naive moment from Dwight considering his stature and profession. But you also have to remember Howard is human and he was making a life-changing decision with everyone — fans, commentators, friends, family, management, agents, everyone — commenting on what he should do publicly.
That cannot be easy. And it seemed really clear that Howard was ready to move on and put this behind him.
He admitted that there were advisers who were pushing and discussing the benefits of going to a larger market. But, again, loyalty won out. Howard listened to their arguments, appeared to investigate them and decided Orlando was a place he could still explore and get those opportunities. I am sure we will hear stories of the business impact of that decision in the near future.
But, maybe more importantly, Howard did not blame them for their viewpoint. They were a part of the factors weighing on his decision in the end.
“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 said. “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.”
And that might have been the final piece to the puzzle of why Howard is staying in Orlando. He senses something special in this team. Something maybe we don’t see all the time on the court, but something he sees.
The Magic have climbed into a comfortable position as the third seed in the Eastern Conference. They still might have time to reach the top two and surprise someone in the Playoffs. With this cloud gone and the trade deadline passed, who knows what a relaxed and certain Magic team could look like.
That is the thing we don’t know. And that is what we will find out the rest of this season as this team seems to be coming together.
And overall that was Dwight Howard‘s message to the fans and the organization: Believe.
Believe that this team can win a championship. Believe that this city is a place where an NBA team can be successful for a long, long time. Believe that this is a place where the best in the world want to play. Believe that there is so much growth that can come from something as simple as a basketball team. Believe that Dwight Howard and the city can change and impact the world.
First though it starts with winning basketball games and transforming the city like the team did with its NBA Finals run in 2009. It starts with recapturing that spark and bringing excitement to the Amway Center with wins and hope for a championship. You certainly cannot do that without belief.
One thing is for sure the franchise is not taking this opportunity lightly and believe that a this is a championship organization. They will continue to do whatever it takes. Alex Martins admitted during the press conference that there is still work to do for the Magic to continue building a relationship with Howard to have him sign that long-term contract. The work is not done this year at all with a championship still out there to win.
“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.”
The other stuff can wait. The focus is finally back on the basketball court. That is where magic happens. Of course, if you believe.
The “Dwight-mare” is over for now.