MANILA, Philippines – The NBA trade deadline has come and gone without the big fish being netted out of the Orlando Magic’s lair.
But even though Dwight Howard’s decision finally put an end to the season-long circus that has gripped the NBA, the choice to opt in for next season did not come easily to the 26-year-old superstar.
A day before the NBA trade deadline, Howard announced that he didn’t want to be traded and will finish out the year with the Magic before exercising the opt-out clause on his contract on July 1, to team up with star playmaker Deron Williams in Brooklyn.
Howard said that the Orlando management should “roll the dice” and do whatever they can to convince him to stay on amid his public pronouncements that he wants out.
The Magic top brass, led by new CEO Alex Martins, responded by vehemently saying that they will trade the six-foot-11 superstar if he is serious with his threat to bolt Orlando for nothing.
Perhaps the Magic have learned from the painful experience they had in 1996, when another young, dominant center left “The City Beautiful” for the brighter lights of Hollywood in one of the biggest free agent defections in NBA history.
Shaquille O’Neal’s move stunned the Orlando faithful and had a hand in the team struggling to get past even just the first round of the playoffs until 2008, when the third-seeded Magic nearly swept Toronto, 4-1.
Probably stunned by the team’s announcement that he will be traded if he will not waive the opt-out clause, Howard said in an interview with RealGM.com late night on March 14 that he will sign the waiver, thus ending all possibilities that he will be leaving for another franchise in the next season and a half.
The circumstances surrounding Howard’s flip-flopping have caused the media to dub the incident, “The Indecision,” obviously a play on LeBron James’ much-maligned TV special in 2010, when the two-time Most Valuable Player announced that he will be leaving Cleveland and “take his talents to South Beach.”
Howard called it loyalty, to which Miami superstar Dwyane Wade alluded on Twitter, “Loyalty hahahahaha.”
Still a piece or two away
Howard stays. But there is still much the Magic has to deal with before seriously contending for the NBA crown.
Despite the emergence of Ryan Anderson as a legitimate threat, Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson all have seen their games dip to almost career-low levels.
All three need to step up big time in the playoffs for Orlando to spoil the Heat or Chicago’s march to the finals.
Howard leads the Magic in points (21.1), rebounds (15.0, first in the NBA), steals (1.6), blocks (2.2, fourth in the league), field goal shooting (57.9%, second in the NBA) and player efficiency rating (25.0).
Anderson and Redick are playing their best basketball so far with the former a prime candidate for the Most Improved Player award after boosting his stock from 10.6 points and 5.5 rebounds last season to 16.0 markers and 7.9 boards this time, all while improving on his accuracy from the field, beyond the arc and on the line.
Come playoff time, however, Anderson and Redick are sure to be mobbed by stifling defenses that will be able to meticulously prepare for them in a series.
The duo are definitely not shot creators themselves, thus, the Magic badly need Nelson and backup Chris Duhon to level their games up to help Orlando make a dent in the postseason.
Dwight is no leader
Dwight Howard, for all his physical might, brute strength and otherworldly athleticism, is not the leader who will carry his team to a championship.
Yes, he might be the best player on a title-winning team, but as ESPN’s LZ Granderson pointed out, “his leadership skills join free throw shooting as the weakest part of his game.”
To bring a team on his back when the going gets tough is a hallmark of legends like Michael Jordan, Bill Russell and Magic Johnson — players who, despite the odds, showed leadership that was key to their on-court success.
Jordan, Russell and Johnson won 22 championships among themselves and were leaders who took the game to its limits and pushed their teammates to maximize whatever potential they have.
In the current crop of NBA superstars, only Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Wade have shown that they can will their teams to the finals — the three have rings to prove that they belong to this class.
A repeat of 2009?
In 2009, the Magic made it all the way to the NBA finals only to be outplayed by the Los Angeles Lakers, 1-4.
As of time of publication, the Magic sits at third in the East, seven games out of the league-leading Bulls and four games behind Miami. And if the playoffs begin today, they will be facing the aging Boston Celtics in what could be an exciting series that can go the distance.
But the season’s not over yet and Howard is definitely capable of igniting a stirring run that can probably catapult Orlando to the top. The team has, over the past years, been designed to surround their dominant center, what with shooters ready to fire away and explode anytime.
And with Howard saying that he is “all in” for this season and next, who knows? 2009 might just happen all over again. – Rappler.com