- J.A. Adande, ESPN Senior Writer
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As the Dwight Howard saga took one last lap along the curvy road course, with a declaration to RealGM.com of his intent to sign off on a return to Orlando for the final year of his contract (backed up by a source who has spoken to Howard), it turned out that the Magic’s best shot at keeping him was intensifying their efforts to trade him.
That was the Magic’s response to Howard’s statement Tuesday night that he wanted to spend the rest of the season in Orlando and that the Magic should “roll the dice” afterward. Or, perhaps, that was their strategically leaked response. Whatever the actual means, the end was the intended effect.
The Magic forced a resolution by calling Howard on his season-long signals of yearning to make his future home with the Nets by threatening to send him there right away…and letting him watch the playoffs from home. Moving up to New Jersey would move Howard down nine spots in the Eastern Conference standings. He would go from four games behind the Miami Heat for the No. 2 seed to 4 ½ games behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the final playoff spot. And a league source said that missing out on the playoffs would cost Howard significant bonuses from his Adidas contract.
What a great play by the Magic. It seemed to drive home the point they were trying to make all along, that if Howard wants to win a championship the Magic are about as good a short- and mid-term option as he’s got. It didn’t hurt that the Magic racked up victories against the Bulls and Heat in a recent six-day span.
So all of a sudden Howard was willing to consider opting in for the final year of his contract and spending another season in Orlando. That was the only realistic expectation the Magic had. They just wanted to buy some time to see if they could convince Howard to stay even longer. The public waffling by Howard this week is the same sort of alternately encouraging and discouraging signals he’d sent to them in private discussions throughout the season.
With the moment of truth drawing near, Howard says he will sign the waiver of the early termination option on his contract. You can debate whether this whole affair has diminished Howard’s value as a franchise player, but the Magic see him as one, and they have wanted to keep him. It’s looking like they have reached their goal.