Retiring Magic CEO says keeping Howard is priority

Associated Press
Orlando Magic CEO and vice vhairman Bob Vander Weide announces his retirement during an NBA basketball news conference in Orlando, Fla., Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011. Magic team president Alex Martins is being promoted to his position. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

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Orlando Magic CEO and vice vhairman Bob Vander Weide announces his retirement during an NBA basketball …

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The Magic's retiring chairman and chief executive officer Bob Vander Weide said Wednesday that his decision to step down had nothing to do with a late-night phone call he made recently to Dwight Howard and that efforts to keep the Magic All-Star continue.

However, general manager Otis Smith said the Magic won't placate to every request Howard might have should he decide to test the free agency waters next summer.

Howard can opt out of his current contract a year early and become a free agent in July 2012.

"At the end of the day our objective is to win a title and protect this franchise," Smith said. "We're going to do whatever we have to do in order to do that. Our objective is to keep (Howard) in a uniform, however, if that's not the case then we'll move another direction. But our objective right now is to keep him in uniform."

Vander Weide, who has worked with the Magic since coming on in 1992 as vice president of basketball operations, had been its CEO and chairman since 2010 after previously serving as team president.

He said at a Wednesday press conference he has been moving toward giving up the chairman and CEO reins for more than a year and that the recent NBA labor negotiations are what delayed Wednesday's announcement.

Vander Weide, 53, will stay on in a consulting role, but will hand off the chairman duties to his brother-in-law Dan DeVos. Team president Alex Martins is taking over as CEO and will be running day-to-day matters.

DeVos will also take Vander Weide's position as the Magic's lead representative on the NBA Board of Governors.

Vander Weide sought to clear up reports that he may have been intoxicated when he spoke to Howard in a phone conversation earlier this week.

He said he had 2-3 glasses of wine over a three-hour period after a social event and that he wanted to return text and phone messages Howard had left for him. He denied being drunk when he spoke to Howard.

"We need to be clear on this, that phone conversation has not changed my relationship with Dwight," Vander Weide said. "We like each other; we even love each other as people. He's always reached out to me. That phone call has not changed his feeling about this organization. And third, and maybe not as important, that phone conversation has nothing to do with us being here today."

Vander Weide went on to say that from his assessment in recent conversations between he and Howard that he thinks that "mentally Dwight is in a good place" as he contemplates his future.

Asked if the process to court Dwight to stay has been a tough one for team officials, Vander Weide seemed to at least allude to the 1996 departure of Shaquille O'Neal to the L.A. Lakers when he said previous ones have been.

"It would be real clear historically, having done this with several of your own free agents, it's a taxing process," he said. "But we've learned from each one and we are doing everything we can to make sure Dwight knows this is home for him."

With trade scenarios already swirling, Smith made it clear that while the desire to re-sign Howard is, of course, the Magic's top free agency priority.

"Our objective is to win an NBA title and who does that it is NBA basketball teams," Smith said. "And that's what we're going to continue to do. We're going to put the best team on the floor to give the Orlando Magic a chance to win an NBA title. That doesn't necessarily mean we're going to listen to everything Dwight has to say and placate to that."

Smith said they also would not do it to the detriment of the Magic's organization goal of winning an NBA title.

The ultimate choice, though, is Howard's.

"We want him here as long as we can have him here and our organization brand is to win a title," he said. "We built a culture here for a reason. That's the reason it's that way. We're doing all of our jobs. I'm doing my job. And at the end of the day, the decision will come down to him. It's not going to come down to the people sitting at this podium. It's going to come down to Dwight Howard. And then at that point we have to make another decision."

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