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Dwight Howard still in Orlando

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By Brandon Niles, Sports Writer

For those of us who remember Lebron James deciding to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers following the 2009-2010 season, there’s something all too familiar about the current status of Orlando Magic star Dwight Howard.

James spent the entire season ambiguously stating that he was uncertain about whether or not he would remain in Cleveland when his contract expired at the end of the year. Sure enough, after the season finished he signed with the Miami Heat. Two years later, James is widely viewed as a villain for leaving Cleveland, and I fear that a similar situation may play out with Howard.

Dwight Howard has spent most of this season going back and forth with the press about his desire to play elsewhere. There were statements about where he’d like to be traded to, along with expressions of love for the city of Orlando. Generally, he was ambiguous. Most assumed as the trade deadline approached on March 15, Howard would be traded to another team so the Magic wouldn’t lose him in free agency without any compensation.

However, the trade deadline has now come and gone, and Howard is still in Orlando. Even more surprising, Howard seemed to have had a change of heart at the last moment, even signing a contract that disabled his ability to opt out of his current deal, ensuring he’ll remain with the Magic at least through the 2012-2013 season. Orlando must be thrilled to retain its franchise star, and Howard has expressed regret at his previous requests to play elsewhere.

While this is supposed to be the end of the story, I worry the Magic have delayed the inevitable. Meanwhile, the circus surrounding Howard’s trade status will continue for another year, causing a distraction during the playoffs and into next season. The only way to avoid this is for Howard to sign a lucrative contract extension and show a long-term commitment to the team. The current situation feels more like a band-aid.

From a basketball perspective, no team wants to lose its best player, especially when that player is one of the faces of the league. It makes sense the Magic would seek to retain Howard for as long as they can. Also, Howard remaining until the end of the season keeps the team in a position to make a strong push in the playoffs, which will keep the fans happy.

Next year though, that ominous feeling will return. That same feeling we all had about Lebron during his final year in Cleveland will come back. Ultimately, unless the Magic can secure Howard’s services in the long run, they’ll wish they’d traded him and acquired some early draft picks in the 2012 draft. If he’s traded next year, they may have missed out on one of the deepest draft classes in recent memory. If he isn’t traded, they may be in the same position Cleveland was in last year at this time, with no star player and no young prospects obtained from a deal. The Magic should’ve gotten what they could now and started the rebuilding process early.

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