What will happen to Dwight Howard?

Daniel Romero-Salas
"Will Dwight Howard opt out of his contract and become a free agent? Will he be traded? Or will he re-sign with the Magic?"

Daniel Romero-SalasMANILA,Philippines – Will Dwight Howard opt out of his contract and become a free agent? Will he be traded? Or will he re-sign with the Magic?   

With the upcoming trade deadline looming in the NBA (March 15), front offices are now under pressure to make moves.

No one has more pressure on them than Otis Smith, General Manager of the Orlando Magic.

His franchise star, Dwight Howard, is by far the best center in the league and at the age of 26, beginning to scratch the surface of his amazing potential.

Smith’s problem is that Howard may exercise his early termination clause and become a free agent this summer.

If Howard were to leave, there are more than a few reasons and multiple destinations for him to go to.

Who’s interested?

The Magic is a competitive team but certainly a tier below the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and Chicago Bulls when it comes to being a championship contender.

Orlando is a small media market compared to Los Angeles, New Jersey and Dallas – Howard’s wish list of destinations. Any of those teams would provide a multiple time all-star player to team up with in Kobe Bryant, Deron Williams or Dirk Nowitzki respectively.

The Magic would rather have Howard leave through a trade thus getting back some value for him.

Of the three teams, only the New Jersey Nets and Los Angeles Lakers seem to have the necessary assets. The Bulls can make a better offer but Howard has not indicated he wants to go there.

The Nets can offer young big man Brook Lopez along with multiple expiring contracts. The Lakers is willing to center a package around either Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum but not both. The Magic would like to include Hedo Turkoglu in any deal with Howard making it more difficult for the Nets or Lakers to match salaries.

In that scenario, the Nets or Lakers would have to send out around $28,485,400 in salaries to the Magic instead of $17,885,400 for Howard alone.

The Mavericks seem intent on clearing cap space for the summer in anticipation of Howard opting out of his contract and signing as a free agent. If the Mavericks can find someone to trade for Shawn Marion’s contract, they will have enough cap space to offer maximum contracts to both Howard and Deron Williams, also a potential free agent.

The Mavericks’ owner, Mark Cuban, is hedging the team’s future on acquiring stars to pair up with Nowitzki as he begins to wind down his career at age 33.  

Magic’s next move

There are benefits to Howard staying in Orlando.

The Magic may not be the best team but it is certainly more competitive than the Nets are now. Stan Van Gundy is one of the most brilliant coaches in the NBA having won 67.7% of games in 4 seasons with the Magic.

The Magic has assembled shooters like Ryan Anderson, Jason Richardson and JJ Redick space the floor, allowing Howard to dominate other centers without worrying about double teams.

A less publicized but nevertheless important reason for Howard to stay is that according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Magic hold Howard’s Bird Rights. Bird Rights allow a home team to exceed their salary cap space in order to sign a free agent who qualifies, in this case, Howard.

This means that the Magic can offer Howard 7.5% annual salary raises and any other team can only offer 4.5%. The Magic can also offer an additional 5th year to the contract while other teams cannot.

If Howard opts to leave, he would lose around $30 million in salary.

That is a lot to give up for a chance at a championship.

In the end, this long running saga may force either Howard or the Magic to make a move. The Magic can learn from the Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony trades, and deal Howard for younger, cheaper pieces or they can wait till the end of the season like the Cavaliers and Raptors did with Lebron James and Chris Bosh. 

In the meantime, everyone will be looking towards March 15 to see what happens. Rappler.com

Daniel Romero-Salas is a lifelong NBA fan with an inclination to statistical analysis of the game. He graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, and strives to bring a refreshing take on one of the most popular leagues in the world.