Howard waives opt-out clause, staying with Magic

Associated Press
Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard answers questions during a news conference,Thursday, March 15, 2012, in Orlando, Fla. Howard signed a contract extension in 2007 hoping he would be town as long as the city's famous mouse.   (AP Photo/John Raoux)
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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Magic center Dwight Howard has finally put an end to the back-and-forth NBA roller-coaster ride that he had taken Orlando on for the past four months.

At least temporarily.

Howard's 11th-hour decision before Thursday's trade deadline to waive the early termination option in his contract means he has a deal with the only franchise he's known at least through next season.

"I'm glad this is finally over," Howard said at a news conference to announce the new pact. "...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."

But loyalty only goes so far, the Magic wanted it in writing.

Had Howard not signed the papers, he would have been gone.

"It was real," Orlando general manager Otis Smith said of the possibility of dealing Howard before he signed the waiver. "We weren't rolling the dice."

But unless the Howard and the Magic can reach a long-term deal before next season begins, they're start right where they left off before Thursday. And it hasn't been pretty.

The Magic organization trudged through repeated closed door waffling on Howard's part about a desire to play with multiple teams and players, the city hosted an awkward All-Star weekend and pacifying a patient fan base.

Teammates have been frustrated and the situation has had an already intense Stan Van Gundy ready to blow a gasket having to answer — or refusing to answer — daily questions about Howard's status.

Even Howard's mother chimed in at one point during the drama, saying that she thought her son should remain in Orlando.

The saga continued until just hours before the trade deadline.

It was originally thought by both the Magic and league office that both Howard and agent Dan Fegan had to sign the forms. But turns out only Howard's signature was needed, opening the door for one more possible change of heart.

Though he had previously alluded to "getting bad advice" from people around him, Howard refused to touch the subject Thursday.

"It doesn't matter at this point," he said.

Howard said he didn't think he'd had a full night's sleep since making his original trade demand. He offered an apology to Magic fans for the back-and-forth ordeal, but not for taking his due diligence to make it.

"There's no decision about your life that you're gonna make in one day or one hour," he said.

But the four months it took Howard to make a decision impacted a lot of other people.

Howard first requested a trade during the preseason and at the time he expressed frustration with Magic management and what he felt was an unwillingness to include him in personnel decisions or to improve the roster around him. He went as far as to praise the relationship he felt All-Star Dirk Nowitzki has with Mavericks' owner Mark Cuban.

He maintained that stance until changing his mind this week and expressing a desire to remain in Orlando this season, though he initially refused to waive his opt-out provision.

Howard said he made his decision to waive the early termination clause in the hours after the Magic's loss to San Antonio Wednesday night and then notified the team via phone calls and text messages while on the team plane.

His teammates were apparently unaware of the final change of heart, with Magic guard Chris Duhon posting on his Twitter account "Off to Orlando and the waiting game begins" shortly after the Spurs' game.

But now Howard wants to put all that behind them.

Howard says he's "all in" now and ready to give the organization a full season to improve the roster going forward.

The Magic are 28-16 this season and seven games behind first-place Chicago. And despite everything Howard is averaging 21.2 points and a career-best 15.2 rebounds.

"Now we can get back to playing basketball and having some peace and trying to win a championship," said Howard. "I feel like we have a chance to win want and I didn't feel like either one of us (he or the organization) should give that up."

Howard said repeatedly Thursday he was both relieved and expressed a desire to make this a championship year for Orlando to make up for the off-court storms.

But with no long-term commitment how long the calm will last is certainly still an open proposition.

Unless Smith and Magic CEO Alex Martins can add pieces around Howard between now and the summer of 2013, this entire ordeal is set to play out one more time. Then there won't 'be an extra year to lean on.

The Magic didn't make player moves Thursday, but Smith said improving the roster and resigning Howard go hand-in-hand.

The Magic also would appear to have the advantage in signing Howard long-term because of provisions in the league's new collective bargaining agreement give the Magic the ability to offer Howard $30 million more than any other team if he becomes a free agent.

Orlando can offer him a five-year contract extension with 7.5 percent annual raises, while other teams are capped at offering a four-year pact with only 4.5 percent raises.

Martins, who has only been the Magic CEO since the preseason, said that part of the process was building a new relationship with Howard that he didn't have before.

Martins said his focus will be on making Orlando what Howard needs it to be in hopes of getting the center to sign a long-term deal.

But they can't come to an agreement, Howard could still be leaving Orlando — just at a later date.

Martins said having experienced O'Neal walk away in 1996, like his GM, was going to put the Magic first no matter what.

"History plays a role in everything...and we were not going to suffer the same thing we did in the mid-90s," he said. "But if Dwight made a different decision, we were prepared.

"Loyalty is hard to find ... he's gotta be commended for the loyalty he's showing here."

Howard said his isn't concerned with the end of the next season.

"When the time comes we'll deal with it then," Howard said. "I have to put my trust in Alex and Otis...I want to win a championship and that's the only thing that matters."

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