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Old 10-17-2011, 10:37 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Howard hints at leaving Orlando

No surprise here, but....

It’s possible that Dwight Howard is getting a bit more candid in public comments about his potential free agency in July 2012. A year ago, he was repeating the false line that the old collective bargaining agreement did not allow him to sign an extension with the Magic. Then he got cranky at the speculation over his future, suggesting on Twitter that the local media were trying to run him out of town – just like Shaq!

And recently, Howard spoke with Esquire‘s Scott Raab about why he might leave Orlando:

SR: Do you think that the drive to represent, on an iconic level, will be a factor in your free agency? Do you see yourself in a much larger market?

DH: There’s more you can do in a bigger place. I’m stuck in a tough position because I feel like right now, where I’m at, I’ve done so much. And I just don’t know what else I can do. I can’t live for everybody else. I don’t know what decision I’m gonna make as of right now. It’s been crazy. Everybody wants me to come here, come play here, come to our team, do this. It’s a great feeling, though, to be wanted.

SR: You’re gone. I can feel it.

DH: The toughest part for me is the city — the people. They’ve got burgers named after me in Orlando, they’ve got a Web site saying, “Please stay.” I love the people in the city. I’ve literally sat on the bench with a towel on my head crying, because I feel the passion in the stands. I just think about what’s going to be best for what I want to accomplish in my life. And I don’t want that door to close on me, wherever that door is. I don’t want it to close.

The doomsday alarms are going to sound in Orlando, but there’s nothing all that new or shocking here. Howard sounds torn between his loyalty to Orlando and his desire to go to a bigger market. He does not mention his desire to win a championship, though his competitiveness is beyond reproach, and it’s safe to assume the potential for rings will be a huge factor in his choice. And that, more than anything, is troublesome for Orlando.

For all the commotion over stars conspiring to move to glamour markets, there aren’t all that many examples of superstar players who left true title contenders, or teams set to contend in the immediate future, for bigger markets or better teams. The old collective bargaining deal, with its soft cap and Bird Rights, gave incumbent teams an edge in retaining their own free agents, and if those incumbent teams had convinced their franchise guys of future title contention, those guys generally stuck around. (There are, of course, some glaring exceptions, including Shaq and perhaps LeBron James, though the roster surrounding James in Cleveland did not hold the same promise as his new crew in Miami.)

The Magic might be stuck selling Howard on a post-2012 unknown. Even if an amnesty clause allows Orlando to shed Gilbert Arenas’ contract immediately upon the resumption of league business, it will still have about $57 million in committed salaries for next season. Next year’s cap level and structure are uncertain, but it’s hard to imagine any scenario where the Magic would have more than a sliver of cap room. That would leave them with only the trade market and whatever cap exceptions remain as means of improving their 2011-12 roster — a roster that badly needs an upgrade on the wing, with Jason Richardson headed into unrestricted free agency. The Magic have some interesting trade pieces — Brandon Bass, Ryan Anderson, J.J. Redick and Jameer Nelson are relatively affordable and productive — but they lack attractive draft picks, and any combination of those decent players might not be enough to net a roster-changing force.

Things get more flexible after next season. Arenas could be long gone by then, Redick’s deal for 2012-13 is fully nonguaranteed and the deals tied to both Nelson and Bass are set to expire, via player options, after the 2012-13 season. The Magic still might not have much cap room, but getting everyone’s deal one year closer to expiration helps a bit on the trade market.
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