Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 12/14/11
The Dwight Howard saga took another strange turn Wednesday when, according to reports, the Orlando Magic began informing teams that their superstar center was no longer on the trading block. The news came as quite the surprise, given that less than a week ago, Howard himself confirmed to the media that he had requested a trade out of Central Florida. But for the Magic, the decision to press pause on sorting out Howard's future may have been the smartest move they could have made at least for the time being. And for their fans, it's a glimmer of hope, albeit a tiny one, that Howard could be staying in Orlando for the long haul. Before the Magic chose to put the Howard talks on the backburner, it had been rumored that New Jersey one of three teams on Howard's wish list, along with the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers was working on a three-team deal with Portland that would have sent Nets center Brook Lopez and Blazers swingman Gerald Wallace to Orlando. But Magic general manager Otis Smith apparently said, 'No deal,' and rightly so. Because that offer, or something like it, will always be on the table for the Magic, so there's no rush to pull the trigger now. Lopez and Wallace are talented players, to be sure, but there are plenty of others like them. That kind of package is hardly fair compensation for a once-in-a-generation center like Howard, and Orlando knows that the Nets or someone else can probably do better. And if no one knocks Orlando's socks off, and the March 15 trade deadline rolls around and Smith calls up Nets general manager Billy King looking to make that deal for Dwight, you think King will say no? Hardly. If anything, Orlando is doing itself a favor by putting off trading Howard until the last possible minute. Though Howard's declaration that he wants out didn't do Orlando any favors from a leverage standpoint, the big man also made it clear that New Jersey soon to be Brooklyn isn't the only place he wants to be. And goodness knows there isn't a team in the world that doesn't want Howard, so the Magic could very well use that knowledge to leverage other teams be it the Nets, Lakers and Mavs, or the Bulls, Clippers and Rockets against each other. Howard's presence on the market even if he's not technically on the market will make motivated bidders out of everyone who wants a crack at him, and when a deal is finally struck, Orlando will be much better for it. If you're the Magic, there's nothing to be gained by rushing to judgment and making a move just to say you made one, and finally Smith has come to realize that. In a matter of five days, he has figured out what his worst option is, and now he has three months to find something better. Unfortunately for Smith and the Magic, that means three more months of constant badgering about what's going to happen next, and it will certainly be interesting to see how Howard's future will affect the Magic's present. Because, make no mistake about it, this isn't going away just because the Magic said they aren't taking calls. The media circus will stick around, and they'll continue to ask questions that no one wants to answer. As much as the Magic would like for it to happen, no one can undo what has already been done, un-say what has already been said and make this go away. The queries about Howard's next team will still dominate every press conference involving his current team, and the Jameer Nelsons and J.J. Redicks of the world will continue to offer shoulder shrugs and I-don't-knows and ask-Dwights until all of this is sorted out. But if there's a team in the league that's equipped for that kind of mess, it's the Magic. For starters, the man at the head of the bench is Stan Van Gundy, and if there's one person in Orlando who doesn't give a damn about what you think and why you think it, it's him. Van Gundy is the ultimate live-in-the-moment coach, and when he says that all he's focused on is winning games with the team he has, you know he means it. Furthermore, the Magic are going to win games, and winning is the ultimate distractor. If the team wins, then folks like Van Gundy and Howard have something else and something positive to talk about, and talk about it they will. But the biggest reason of all that the Magic aren't concerned with this turning into Carmelo Part II is Howard himself. Howard is as focused and committed as they come, and if there's one thing he's not going to do, it's give Orlando a half-assed effort until they meet his demands. Howard is going to bust his hump and play his heart out every night, just like he has in all but eight regular-season games over the last seven years, and he won't for a second look like a guy who's ready to high-tail it out of town. And maybe if the Magic are really lucky, Howard's commitment to playing his hardest will result in a newfound commitment to playing for the Magic. Obviously, Orlando's preference would be for Howard to not leave at all, and by not trading him, the Magic are certainly giving Howard more time to re-think his decision and one last chance to change his mind. The eternal optimist aka every Magic fan in Orlando might argue that with every day that passes and every win the Magic collect, Howard may well become more convinced that Orlando is where he wants to be. But, unfortunately, that ship has likely already sailed. Once a player goes public with his desire to move on, it's tough for him to renege although Kobe did just that in 2007, and that worked out OK and unless Orlando can find some way to acquire Nets guard Deron Williams, it's tough to envision a scenario in which Howard re-ups with the Magic. It's clear that Howard's desire to get out of town is borne of something deeper than just wanting to win, because if simply fielding a competitive team were all Howard is looking for, he wouldn't be leaving. Since the start of the 2007-08 season, the Magic have the third-highest winning percentage in the NBA, behind only the Celtics and Lakers, and their 30 playoff victories in that span are good for third in the league as well. The problem in Orlando isn't that they don't win enough games, it's that they don't win the right games, and that's exactly why Howard is so desperate to go to a team where what you win is equally important as how often you win. Certainly, a hot start to the season wouldn't hurt the Magic in their quest to keep Howard in Orlando, but it's tough to rationalize it being enough to keep him around. Even with Howard off the trading block at least for the moment the general consensus is still that Howard won't be wearing Magic pinstripes when he takes the court at the start of the 2012-13 season. There are newer, bigger cities for the superstar to conquer and the championship Howard so badly desires is more likely to be won elsewhere. Fortunately for the Magic, they have three months to find the best deal for Dwight, and they have a bevy of teams that would love to be the ones to make it. Sure, there will be distractions along the way. It's never easy when your star player announces that he wants to be someone else's star player. But if Smith is patient and plays his cards right, the Magic may be in much better position than anyone expected whenever the rebuilding process finally starts.
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