- Chris Broussard, NBA analyst
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Dwight Howard informed Orlando Magic management late Wednesday night that he wants to stay with the team through next season and will not opt out of his contract, according to sources close to the situation.
Howard plans to sign a waiver of the early termination option in his contract Thursday. Until Howard and his agent actually sign the waiver, though, the Magic will assume he is not staying and will go ahead with their plans to trade him before Thursday's 3 p.m. ET deadline, sources said.
But another sign that he will sign is the fact that the New Jersey Nets have been told that he will do so and will therefore not be available in trade, a source told ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher on Thursday.
By signing the waiver, Howard would remain under contract with the Magic through the 2012-2013 season.
"The Magic have no comment on this situation," team spokesman Joel Glass said Thursday.
RealGM.com initially reported Howard had decided not to opt out and become a free agent this summer.
Howard's about-face is the latest change of heart during a wild 24-hour period for the superstar center and Orlando's fan base.
Early Wednesday, Howard told Magic management he would not opt out of his contract and would remain with the club next season. Later that evening, he told select teammates the same thing.
Then, during a conference call before Wednesday's game in San Antonio, Howard told the Magic he was not prepared to sign the ETO (early termination option) waiver, ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported.
One source close to the NBA's reigning Defensive Player of the Year insisted Howard "didn't fully understand the ramifications" of surrendering his ETO.
Dan Fegan, Howard's agent, then added in a statement to ESPN.com that Howard only did so in conversations with teammates and team officials earlier Wednesday because he had been warned by the Magic that they would definitely trade him by Thursday's deadline if he didn't take that step.
"Dwight has chosen not to waive his ETO under pressure from the team that he might be traded," Fegan said. "However, Dwight expressed once again on a call today with the DeVos family and Alex Martins that he very much desires to pursue a championship this year with the Magic. Dwight also expressed that he had no intention of leaving the Magic high and dry at the end of the season."
But after the game in San Antonio, Howard again reversed his decision and told Magic officials he wanted to stay, sources said. After mulling it over on the club's postgame flight from San Antonio to Orlando, Howard told the Magic he was ready to sign the waiver right then and there, at about 3 a.m. ET.
The Magic, according to sources, told Howard to continue thinking about his decision and made plans to meet with him and have him sign the waiver early Thursday.
"They did not want him to sign the paper at 3 a.m.," one source said. "They wanted him to sleep on it and come back with a clear head in the morning."
Knowing Howard's penchant for changing his mind, one source close to Howard said the Magic should have reacted differently.
"They should have had him sign it," the person said.
Howard told RealGM.com that he's having a hard time leaving Orlando, the only NBA city he's called home since entering the league out of high school.
"Man, listen, you know my heart, my soul and everything I have is in Orlando. ... I just can't leave it behind," Howard told RealGM.com.
Howard also told the website that he was sorry for the way the situation has played out.
"I have gotten some bad advice," Howard said, according to the report. "I apologize for this circus I have caused to the fans of our city. They didn't deserve none of this. I'm sorry from the bottom of my heart. I will do whatever I can to make this right and do what I was put in Orlando to do."
If Howard does indeed stay, he passes up the opportunity to sign a long-term contract this offseason. If he had opted out and re-signed with Orlando, Howard could have secured a max contract of $109 million over five years. If he signed elsewhere, he could have received $81 million over four years.
He is eligible to sign a two-year or three-year extension with the Magic, or he can collect his $19 million next season and then become a free agent, but Howard runs the risk of incurring an injury before signing another long-term deal.
Despite the widespread notion that Howard wanted to leave the Magic and sign with the Nets, sources close to Howard have insisted since the saga began in December that Howard's heart was in Orlando and that he was being pushed to leave the franchise by his representatives.
When Howard spoke privately with the club over the past few months, he would tell the Magic it had a legitimate chance of retaining him after this season, according to sources. But when with his representatives, he would talk as if he wanted to leave.
Howard asked the Magic to trade him to the Nets in December, but Orlando refused to do it.
The Nets, who have been counting on teaming Howard with Deron Williams either this season or next in their new Brooklyn home, would be the biggest loser in this situation, as there is widespread speculation that Williams will leave the club as a free agent this summer to play with his hometown Dallas Mavericks if Howard remains in Orlando.
The Nets, however, are adamant that they will not trade Williams before Thursday's deadline, regardless of Howard's decision, a source close to the situation said.
The Nets, according to sources, believe it would be better to start from scratch rather than make a rash trade for a collection of players they do not want.
Another source told Bucher Thursday that the Nets will work on some kind of deal at the deadline.
ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein and ESPN NBA Insider Larry Coon contributed to this report.