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Will he stay or will he go?
That was the question on everyone’s mind seemingly forever, as the clock ticked towards July 1 when Dwight Howard (whose contract ran until 2013) could become an unrestricted free agent a year early by executing the early termination option in his contract.
Then Dwight waived the early termination option in his contract on the March 15 trade deadline (flip-flopping on his decision until the final hour), thus agreeing to stay with the Orlando Magic for the remainder of the 2011-2012 season as well as all of the 2012-2013 season.
Then on April 5, Stan Van Gundy revealed to the media during the day at shootaround before the Magic’s regular season game against the New York Knicks (which aired on TNT later that night) that Dwight wanted him fired.
Meanwhile, this whole time, Dwight wanted to be traded. Got all that?
Eventually, Dwight got his wish and was dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers on August 9 in a four-team trade that involved the Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers.
Although the chapter of Dwight’s career with Orlando is over, there are still questions left unanswered. Magic Basketball, with a special guest appearance from Danny Nowell of Portland Roundball Society (former MBN alum), attempts to answer them.
Fact or Fiction: The Magic got the best deal for Dwight.
Nate Drexler, Magic Basketball: Fact. It’s astonishing to me that there are so many people who still seem to think there was some equal value trade out there for Dwight. If there was, it would have happened. Even Magic management isn’t dumb enough to squander this blue chip away for nothing.
Sean Highkin, Magic Basketball: Fact. It wasn’t a great haul by any means and the lottery protection on the picks was indefensible. But Harkless and Vucevic are solid young pieces and the contracts of Al Harrington (50 percent guaranteed in 2014 and 2015 after this season) and Arron Afflalo are easier to move in separate deals than the Brook Lopez max deal they would have taken on with the Nets’ offer.
Danny Nowell, Portland Roundball Society: Fiction. My answer is sort of a cop-out because I say this not knowing what better offer they could have gotten, but believing they almost definitely would have eventually. I like Vucevic, but he’s really the only player who is a surefire long-term fit in Orlando — Harkless is being massively overrated given what we know about him and Harrington as well as Afflalo are most valuable for off-court things. I have to figure the Magic took this deal because of fatigue, which I don’t have a real problem with, but facts are facts: Dwight Howard got back less than worse players have.
Noam Schiller, Magic Basketball: Fiction. On paper, the Rockets offer and maybe the Nets offer were better, but we don’t know the specifics. What we do know is that the early-August deadline was self-imposed. The Magic had zero leverage and were bound to lose any way. Waiting for someone to panic with a better offer would have been more prudent.
Matt Scribbins, Magic Basketball: Fact. But only because their intention was to bottom out and free up money. They definitely could have hauled in much more impressive NBA players to build around, but that is not their strategy. I thought their best deal would have been to acquire Gasol and Bynum (if possible), but the next best alterative was the route they chose.
Fact or Fiction: Dwight is the best player in Magic franchise history.
Drexler: Fact. Especially if we’re talking about time spent with the Magic. I still take Shaq at his peak in 2000 over Dwight’s best season so far (2010-2011). But as a Magic player, there was never a better player. And yes, Dwight Howard in 2011 would eat Orlando Shaq alive.
Highkin: Fact. Shaq had a better career than Howard likely will, but he only played four seasons in Orlando. The best single season any Magic player has ever had belongs to Tracy McGrady in 2002-03, but the Rockets trade obviously takes him out of the running for this distinction. When you look at what Howard accomplished in Orlando over eight seasons, his status in the Magic pantheon is pretty indisputable.
Nowell: Fact. Maybe three Magic players (Shaq, T-Mac, and Penny) have had more pure talent than Howard, but nobody has maximized that potential and elevated the franchise to the levels Dwight has. Howard has been the keystone of a credibility Orlando would never have otherwise had.
Schiller: Fiction. Prime Shaq and prime McGrady were that good. However, since Shaq arrived a fairly polished product while Dwight developed with the Magic and stayed longer, and McGrady achieved little on a team scale, I think Dwight was the most meaningful player in franchise history. Nobody else was as big a focal point for the franchise for that long.
Scribbins: Fact. Other players may come and go from Orlando and have a better overall career, but his tenure in Orlando will be very hard for anyone to top. From 2009-2011, he threw together three straight seasons where he was a legitimate MVP candidate and was by far and away the best defensive player in the NBA. Plus, the league was stacked during his heyday in Orlando. Impressive.
Fact or Fiction: Dwight should have his jersey retired by Orlando.
Drexler: Fact. Hang it high and hang it proud. He may never be back to receive a proper standing ovation, but you simply have to hang the jersey of the best player who has ever graced the court in Orlando.
Highkin: Fact. Time heals all wounds, and the way Dwight’s tenure ended shouldn’t take away from what he did in a Magic uniform any more than “The Decision” should deter the Cavs from retiring LeBron’s number. The Magic have been to the Finals twice in franchise history and the second of those was directly due to Howard’s being the most dominant big man of his generation. That warrants a jersey retirement to me.
Nowell: Fact. He made the Magic a perennial contender and an elite team in Orlando. His best teammates were Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis.
Schiller: Fact. No, Dwight did not handle his exit well. He also arrived in Orlando a teenager and carried them to some of their best seasons ever, including their only Finals win to date. Dwight’s relationship with the Magic is one that should ultimately transcend its bitter ending.
Scribbins: Fact. His accomplishments in Orlando definitely deserve to be rewarded with his jersey hanging in the rafters. However, I don’t think it will happen based off the history of the Orlando Magic. They have never retired the number of a player and I believe it will take an NBA title for the team to bestow the honor.
Fact or Fiction: Dwight’s departure from the Magic was worse than Shaq’s exodus in 1996.
Drexler: Fact. This was the saddest, most pathetic thing that has happened between a player and a team in the last 20 years (maybe longer, I can’t remember back that far.) Getting a coach fired, getting hurt, changing your mind countless times, and then getting traded to the opposite side of the map to play with Kobe? Get real. This is beyond worse. Love the dude, but this was one nasty departure.
Nowell: Fact. Howard’s departure has defied reason at every turn and sorely lacked dignity. Shaq left and it was a blow to the franchise. Dwight precipitated the firing of the best coach in team history, seemed to advocate for stocking the roster with deadweight, enraged fans, and embarrassed his organization. And in perhaps the least comprehensible and worst moment, signed an extension to do it all again.
Highkin: Fact. The Shaq situation was bad, but it seemed at times as though Dwight was going out of his way to make things as difficult for the Magic as possible. Be it in the form of sticking them with terrible contracts for guys like Glen Davis as a way to “keep him happy,” running one of the best coaches in the league out of town, inexplicably opting in to drag the soap opera out longer, or decimating his trade value by refusing to sign with teams that could offer better pieces. It’s hard to handle a departure worse than he did.
Schiller: Fiction. Dwight handled himself much, much worse, but the downside of Shaq’s departure was much more painful. The Penny-Shaq Magic were a dynasty waiting to happen. Instead, it was torched to the ground. Dwight dragged the entire franchise through the mud for a year, but one can only cry so much for the loss of the Howard-Anderson-Nelson troika.
Scribbins: Fact. The end result was clearly the same, but the events leading to the latest departure were difficult on many fans. Months and months worth of reports centered on reportedly imminent trades that never actually occured. Then, many thought he may actually stay in Orlando after waiving his early termination option, only to see him traded a few months later.
Fact or Fiction: Dwight will finish his career with the Lakers.
Drexler: Fact. Where else is he going to go? I get it that Kobe is going to retire and what not, but once he gets used to the fresh seafood and white hot light of big market publicity, the only other place he would or could go is Brooklyn and that ship done sailed. Plus, I think he gets discount Ed Hardy gear when he’s in Los Angeles.
Highkin: Fiction. I have no idea what Dwight’s future holds and his personality seems tailor-made for LA, but so did Shaq’s. I do think he’ll sign a five-year max extension with the Lakers next summer but given Dwight’s past behavior, it’s not a huge leap to imagine him eventually leaving L.A. on just as bad of terms as he did Orlando.
Nowell: Fact. Of course I have no idea what the future holds, but the Lakers will provide Howard with seemingly everything he wants. I have to believe there’s no way he wouldn’t want to settle down and focus on winning games.
Schiller: Fact. The Lakers only lose Hall of Fame centers to old age and feuds with Kobe Bryant. And I have a hunch that, in the unlikely situation where the latter occurs again, the Buss family will once again choose the younger of the two superstars.
Scribbins: Fiction. He is only 26 years old, so it seems like he has several contracts still ahead of him. I have to imagine at least one of them will result in Dwight Howard wearing colors other than Forum blue and gold.