Otis Smith Worried About Dwight’s Departure… Why You Shouldn’t Be


Hopefully this will be the last thing I have to write about Dwight Howard’s impending 2012 free agency until the summer. Likely it will not be. Like with LeBron James before him, the media is transfixed with this idea of a massive free agent summer and they are not going to let this go away.

A whole bunch of stuff has been written about this already and everyone is trying to read between the lines. Marc Stein of ESPN.com had an interview with Howard that revealed he wants to win in Orlando, but winning is what is most important to him. Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel reported Magic President of Basketball Operations Otis Smith has some angst about Howard leaving.

Smith’s full quote to Schmitz: “At end of day, I think he wants to stay here and wants to win here. But with so many marquee guys moving, it’s kind of hard for me not to have any angst about it. I’d be crazy if I didn’t. Of course.”

Like with everything said right now, no one is revealing more than they have to. Howard has continually said he wants to stay in Orlando and done everything short of signing that extension in making that commitment. But we all know what is most important to him is being in a position to get that ring. He got oh so close in 2009, and is trying to get back.

Smith, too, is not saying much more than above. He recognizes, I would imagine, Howard has all the leverage and if he cannot do enough to put the pieces around him to win then he may be on the losing end. The worst part is that there may be nothing he can do since it is the players — and the players on other teams — controlling how Howard might feel.

So my thought is, why worry about it?

Only Howard knows what he is ultimately going to do. And he definitely has not crossed out a return to Orlando. If he did, he likely would have demanded a trade. Now, he definitely is going to be playing hard and paying attention to what this team does this year to determine how he should exercise his leverage entering the final year of his contract.

Is he the type of person who would ask to be traded off a middle-seeded playoff team to go to a title contender if they are in position to compete for a title? Would another team be willing to rent him if he is unwilling to re-sign? Would he be willing to be rented just to do a solid to the Magic and make sure they get something for him?

This is not at all like the Carmelo Anthony situation in Denver. Anthony has a specific place in mind and seems unwilling to go anywhere besides the Knicks (with the possibility he could go to the Nets with their impending move to Brooklyn).

Howard, for all we know, only cares about going somewhere that can win. If Orlando is his best option, he will go there. If somewhere else is, he will go there. It might be that simple.

So again, why worry about it?

Ultimately Orlando’s and Howard’s fates likely will be determined by what happens on the floor.

Matt Moore of Pro Basketball Talk made an incredibly salient point about this whole thing. Howard has said and done all the right things, but would he be right for leaving Orlando in quest of a title?

There are a lot of things that go into winning a championship. It does not just take a bunch of star players or joining up with your buddies. It takes good management, good coaching and good teammates. But as Moore points out responsibility should go on the star player as much as anyone else.

“It’s ego. Ego that drives players to believe that no matter what, no matter how many free throws they miss, the blame for failing to win a championship should fall on all other members of the organization and not themselves,” Moore writes. “Ego that causes them to overlook and shrug off the responsibility that comes with being a franchise player, being the player teams build around, being the player teams depend on.

“Instead they listen to agents and handlers tell them that a shrinking field goal percentage and a modified jumper is enough, that it’s the failure of the team to construct a good enough supporting cast. This, despite the enormous amount of luck it takes to win a championship, never mind the complexity of obtaining truly great talent by a contending team.”

No one, it appears, wants to be Kevin Garnett languishing in Minnesota because of a sense of loyalty. They all want to win now. And thanks to the Redeem Team, they all have a taste of the greatness that might come from playing with each other.

But it is not like Howard has not been provided help. Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson were All Stars in 2009 and All-Star caliber players the last three years. Hedo Turkoglu was playing at an All Star level for several years by Howard’s side. Smith brought in Vince Carter to solve the team’s problem with a perimeter scoring. When that did not work, he brought back Turkoglu and grabbed Jason Richardson and Gilbert Arenas to boot.

You cannot blame him for trying.

So again, at this point, why worry? There are too many variables out of Otis Smith’s, out of Stan Van Gundy’s, out of Dwight Howard’s control to worry too much. All anyone can ask of this team and this franchise it to put them in as good a position to compete for a title as possible. From there it will either take care of itself or it won’t.

As Moore says: “The Magic have made good faith efforts to win a championship, and those efforts brought them as close as you can get without winning as the Eastern Conference Finals.

“But there are more factors in play here. Health, like that of Jameer Nelson or Kevin Garnett in 2009. Matchups, team chemistry, when teams get hot or get cold, over-confidence, the list goes on and on.

“Should the Magic fail to win a championship in the next two seasons (provided there is a second season), the responsibility will ultimately be Otis Smith’s and Stan Van Gundy’s. But it will also be Howard’s. He is the one they have built around, the one who they consider the talents of with every personnel move we make.”

So why worry now? There is too much time between now and when it will be decision time for Howard.