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Dwight Howard will not be wearing a different uniform this season, as the NBA’s most prolific center decided just hours before Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline to remain under contract with the Orlando Magic, at least through next season, after waiving the early termination option in his contract that would have made him a free agent this summer.
“I’m glad this is finally over,” said Howard at a news conference to announce the decision. “… It’s not as easy as some people think. It’s 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, a six time All Star, demanded a trade in the preseason that would send him to the New Jersey Nets, Dallas Mavericks, or Los Angeles Lakers. He kept that sentiment rather consistent until just recently, and his openness in speaking about the situation only increased the level of speculation around the league.
Having played his entire career in Orlando since being drafted out of high school in 2004, Howard had wanted out due to the belief that the organization was not doing enough to build around him, giving the impression of a non-commitment to winning.
Questionmarks continuously arose about what route the Magic’s front office would take. They admitted to a strong desire to keep him onboard, but the last thing they and their fans wanted to see was him walking away and leave the team with no assets in exchange, similar to the way Shaquille O’Neal left it in 1996 when he signed with the Lakers.
The Magic denied ESPN’s report earlier in the week that they were so desperate to keep Howard that they would grant him the final say on the fates of coach Stan Van Gundy and general manager Otis Smith.
After an embarrassing three out of four game stretch in late January in which the Magic lost to the Boston Celtics by 31, and 91-83 three days later after blowing a 27 point lead, and 93-67 to the New Orleans Hornets the following night, Howard expressed passionate frustration with the effort of his teammates, as well.
“It hurts me to get out there and play your hardest,” said Howard. “I expect everybody to play the same. I’m not calling anybody out by no means because we all have to get better … but if you don’t want to be out there, don’t dress up.
“If you don’t want to play, stay home. People work too hard. I want to win a championship. I work too hard every night for anybody to not want to go out there and play hard. … None of the — whatever, trade stuff — none of that stuff matters. Play basketball. That’s why we all get paid to do this, because we love the game and it’s basketball, so why not give it your all.”
After hearing these comments the rest of the roster certainly responded, having a potential impact on Howard’s decision to stay. The Magic are third in the East at 28-16 going into a game with the New Jersey Nets on Friday night.
And despite doing a great amount of talking, Howard never skipped a beat, averaging a staggering 21.2 points and a career high 15.2 rebounds per game.
Things suddenly changed when Howard stated that he wanted to remain with the team after a win over the Miami Heat on Tuesday night, only to confirm it somewhere between the flight back from San Antonio the next night and Thursday morning.
Smith made everyone aware in a statement before Howard’s final decision that the team was fully prepared to deal him.
Signing the early termination option waiver makes Howard incapable of signing a long-term deal with the Magic this offseason, but he can still sign a two or three year extension before then. As of this moment he is due $19 million next season and the door is still open for the potential of this entire fiasco occurring again next year.
However, that was not Howard’s main focus.
“Now we can get back to playing basketball and having some peace and trying to win a championship,” said Howard.
Image Courtesey of Ira Bostic / Shutterstock.com