SAN ANTONIO — In yet another strange turn in the NBA’s biggest story, Dwight Howard seemed to be torn about his future with the Orlando Magic throughout the day Wednesday and finally decided not to eliminate the early termination clause that would enable him to become a free agent after this season.
With the NBA trade deadline looming at 3 p.m. Thursday, Howard waffle back and forth all day long. If Howard keeps that out clause, it almost certainly would mean the team will trade him before Thursday’s deadline.
On Wednesday afternoon, WFTV reported, and other news outlets chimed in, that Howard met with his teammates at the team hotel and told them that he intended to opt in and play the 2012-13 season with the Magic.
But two Magic players told the Orlando Sentinel that Howard made no mention of opting in or of remaining for the 2012-13 season. Still, one of those players said Howard was torn about the issue.
Prior to Wednesday night’s game against the San Antonio Spurs, at least two news outlets reported that Howard had decided not to waive his out clause.
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Approached before tipoff by reporters, the superstar center would not answer questions by the media. Howard very rarely answers questions before tipoff, and he also said that anything that was discussed in a team meeting is a team matter.
The Magic almost certainly would not trade Howard before the deadline if Howard at least commits to playing the 2012-13 season for them.
But what constitutes a commitment?
Magic officials want Howard to amend his current contract to eliminate the early termination option altogether, which would make him unable to become a free agent in July. But to amend the contract, both Howard and his agent, Dan Fegan, would need to sign a document and turn it in to the team.
That paperwork was available to Howard on Wednesday if he wanted to sign it, but an NBA source said the Magic have not received any paperwork.
Without receiving any paperwork in which Howard waives his ETO, team officials appear poised to trade him before the NBA trade deadline in order to avoid a scenario in which Howard becomes a free agent in July, signs with an entirely new team and leaves the Magic without any compensation.
Howard said after the Magic’s win over the Miami Heat on Tuesday that he does not want to be traded by the Magic and wants the Magic to “roll their dice” that he will decide to remain with the team at least for the 2012-13 season instead of signing elsewhere in free agency.
“We will do what is in the best interest of the Magic organization, its ownership and our fans,” Magic CEO Alex Martins told the Sentinel after Howard spoke to the media following Tuesday’s 104-98 overtime win over the Miami Heat.
Martins’ comment was vague, but not that vague. Magic officials now seem more determined than ever not to be left without compensation for Howard. The franchise has been down that road before: In 1996, Shaquille O’Neal signed a free-agent deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Magic received no assets in return.
Martins did not comment Wednesday, and the team’s general manager, Otis Smith, did not make the trip to San Antonio. Smith typically makes every road trip unless he’s sick or has a family commitment.
Without question, Howard’s comments about telling team executives that he does not want to be traded raised eyebrows within the organization. Martins had said on multiple occasions that he and Howard had reached an agreement not to disclose any details of their discussions.
Howard’s comments Tuesday, which came in a response to a reporter’s question about his intentions, appeared to break that agreement and seemed intended to put pressure on Magic officials not to make a trade.
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