Now what?

Reuters Pictures/DayLifeThe news broke late Wednesday night that Dwight Howard had another change of heart and will, in fact, opt into the final year of his contract, waiving his early termination option. Jarrod Rudolph of RealGM spoke with Howard after the Magic’s loss to the Spurs in San Antonio and Howard went on the record to clear the air a bit after a wild 24 hours of will-he or won’t-he when it came to signing the waiver of his early termination option.

From Rudolph’s interview with Howard late last Wednesday night:

“Man, listen, you know my heart, my soul and everything I have is in Orlando,” Howard told RealGM. “I just can’t leave it behind.

“I have gotten some bad advice. I apologize for this circus I have caused to the fans of our city. They didn’t deserve none of this. I’m sorry from the bottom of my heart. I will do whatever I can to make this right and do what I was put in Orlando to do.

“This has been a very hard time. For me, my family and all of us. The fans deserve a better hero and I will make that happen. I love and appreciate my fans and this city.”

The story of Howard’s change of heart was absolutely wild. John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com added the nugget that evening that Magic executives met the team plane in Orlando and Howard offered to sign the waiver then and there… but Magic executives said sleep on it. Howard said that he was still wrestling with the decision up into the hours before he finally signed the sheet of paper.

It seems like we have reached some form of finality.

Or maybe not.

While it is certainly a victory that Orlando got Dwight Howard to commit to waiving his early termination option, it only guarantees the franchise the 2012-13 season. Howard, from all indications, still intends to become a free agent … just in 2013 now instead of 2012.

AP Photo/DayLife

The “circus” might be over and there is a victory to be celebrated — not to mention a playoff run, because throughout this entire thing the Magic have found themselves sitting comfortably in the third spot in the East — but this is, for the moment in the long run, just a stay of execution. Howard is asking us all to believe that this team can win a championship, yet that little footnote of his long-term future still is somewhat in the air.

What is to say those pulls that had Howard requesting a trade earlier in the season do not grab hold again? His hear might be in Orlando. His loyalty might be in Orlando. But a year is still a very long time. Howard might be saying he believes this team can win a championship now, but I think we all know the team needs some breaks to get there (much like 2009).

The best teams do not rely on those breaks. And that is ultimately where Howard wants to go.

Howard talked a lot about loyalty – almost making it his personal brand — and how much fun this specific group of players are having, but when things get tough in the Playoffs and if the Magic bow out sooner than expected will that feeling remain. This summer is going to be an important one for the Magic in building a team that Howard will be more than comfortable to stay and play with.

If you don’t feel like “here we go again,” you probably are not paying complete attention to the situation.

Howard sounded like Orlando is the place he ultimately wants to be during Thursday’s press conference. But Howard would not commit to Orlando beyond next year. To be sure that sounds like an ultimatum — give me a championship team, or I am going to walk this time… I mean it.

That might be an incredibly bleak way to put it right now. But that is where we seem to be heading.

This is not the worst thing in the world, but it is still a precarious position for Orlando. From what I wrote on the potential of Howard declining his early termination option back in late January:

AP Photo/DayLifeAccording to ShamSports, the Magic will have $29.4 million of committed salary for the 2013-14 season if all options are declined. Except for Quentin Richardson‘s player option and the impending Ryan Anderson extension, that number seems to be where the Magic will land. Hedo TurkogluChris Duhon and Von Wafer all have partially guaranteed contract.

This would mean Orlando would have somewhere in the neighborhood of $24 million in cap room if the salary cap stays at $56 million. That number is expected to increase. Then Orlando has $14 million in wiggle room before hitting the current luxury tax line of $70 million.

The Magic can use around $6 million plus the extra $14 million over the cap before the luxury tax line to re-sign Dwight Howard since the team has his Bird Rights. That gives Orlando in the neighborhood of $18 million in cap room. Assuming the team is willing to let Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick walk and trade Hedo Turkoglu (as he would have more value as an expiring contract), the Magic might have enough room to make a run at a big-name free agent in 2013.

Players in the free agent class of 2013 include: Monta Ellis (ETO), Josh SmithAndre Iguodala (ETO), Stephen JacksonAnthony MorrowJames Harden (restricted), Tyreke Evans (restricted), Stephen Curry (restricted) and Devin Harris.

You will notice that a lot of those players resemble the list of players Dwight Howard reportedly gave to management that he would like for the team to aquire. This turns Dwight from the recruited to the recruiter. Like what Deron Williams is trying to do, Howard can show the cap room and entice some of these players to join him in Orlando.

That was the plan I felt Orlando needed to prepare to implement in trying to get Howard to stay. Now that Howard is here, Orlando has to be prepared to move on that plan.

It should be clear from last night’s loss to the Bulls that this team is still missing something. Whether that is just a player who can create his own shot, better passers and ball handlers, a combination of a whole bunch of things or whatever, is something for Otis Smith, Alex martins and Stan Van Gundy to evaluate during the offseason after this season ends.

Orlando will have a choice. Continue to push forward with the roster they have now and try to play that free agent class in 2013. Or go for broke in 2012 and try to bring in that missing piece that could finally put the Magic over the top. The offense’s sputtering against the top defenses should have the team concerned and looking for a fix so Stan Van Gundy can worry more about getting the defense in line rather than worrying about creating shots.

What should be clear from Howard’s new line is that he picked Orlando. He wants to stay. He will not sign the extension because he stands to make more money by going into free agency and re-signing with the Magic then.

But, at the same time, Howard wants a championship roster. The Magic are not there yet. They clearly have work to do over the summer.

The offseason of 2012 is going to be a summer of change in Orlando.

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily

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