MIAMI, March 15, 2012 (AFP) – Orlando center Dwight Howard waived an early termination option in his NBA contract on Thursday to remain with the Magic into next season, ending a season-long drama about whether he might be traded.
Howard had asked for a trade before the season began last December and did not change his stance until this week, just before Thursday’s trade deadline, when he decided not to end his five-year deal in July and become a free agent.
“I’m glad this is finally over,” Howard said. “It has 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.”
Howard had asked for the chance for his agent to talk with New Jersey, the Los Angeles Lakers and the reigning NBA champion Dallas Mavericks.
Sorry to the fans
For a team whose fans recall Shaquille O’Neal’s departure in 1996 for the Lakers, the thoughts of losing another superstar big man were a slap in the face.
But Howard, 26, reversed himself and in a flurry where he has averaged 26.3 points and 17 rebounds over his past four games, showed that he was willing to give the Magic the chance to build a title contender around him next season.
“I apologize for this circus I have caused to the fans,” Howard said. “I’m sorry from the bottom of my heart. I will do whatever I can to make this right.”
Howard, who averages 21.2 points and a career-high 15.2 rebounds a game this season, has played for only the Magic in his eight NBA seaons and said he still hopes to lead them to a title.
“Now we can get back to playing basketball and having some peace and trying to win a championship,” he said.
Otis Smith, the Magic’s general manager, said the team was ready to trade Howard at the last minute rather than risk losing him for nothing as a free agent after the season.
Howard can sign an extension with the Magic or take $19 million next season and then become a free agent, although Orlando might again look to trade him without a long-term deal in place.
The Magic can ink Howard to a longer and larger deal than any rival under NBA free agency rules.
Orlando, 28-16, four games behind Miami in the Southeast division and seven games behind Chicago for the Eastern Conference lead.
More to follow on the NBA deals made by trade deadline. – AFP