A couple weeks ago Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard vowed he would remain loyal to the franchise that drafted him as speculation swirled about where he might end up via free agency or possibly a trade.
It didn’t make sense then that Howard would be unwavering to a franchise that has done nothing but take steps backward during the past couple seasons.
But now, it appears Howard has had time to really think about his future, and he told NBA.com this week that he will become a free agent no matter what once his contract expires following the 2011-2012 season. That isn’t to say he doesn’t still want to remain with the Magic. Howard just wants the team’s brass to put the right kind of players around him that will again allow Orlando to compete seriously for an NBA title as one of the top teams in the Eastern Division.
"I want to win a championship," Howard said. "I think the owners have to really know that. That's been my goal and my mission since I've been in the NBA—to win a championship. I don't have side goals or agendas. My main goal is to win a championship. I want to have 14 other guys who feel the same way."
Howard is right to feel disillusioned after general manager Otis Smith made bad trade after bad trade once the Magic had become one of the top two teams a few years ago. It wasn’t long ago that the combination Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis and Howard seemed like a trio that would contend for titles for a while with the smart placement of a few more pieces to the puzzle.
But Smith traded away sharp-shooting Turkoglu for Vince Carter and then sent Lewis packing for a diminished Gilbert Arenas. The moves all backfired as the Magic regressed. They eventually got Turkoglu back but he is far from the player he once was.
In the meantime, Howard has remained the dominant presence inside he always has been, but he can’t do it alone. He will be a free agent following next season and teams are already circling for his services.
The most intriguing speculation has Howard going to the Los Angeles Lakers either via a trade or free agency to team with perennial star Kobe Bryant. The Chicago Bulls would also make sense.
Though there are certainly better opportunities and more money out there for Howard with bigger market teams, he still seems to favor the Magic if they can shore up the roster. There are personal reasons that Orlando makes sense.
"There's no other place I'd rather be besides Orlando," Howard said to NBA.com. "As of right now, that's my home. I just want to stay in Orlando as long as I can.... That's the truth. I don't have to keep things calm or anything. This is how I really feel in my heart. A lot of people want to see me go other places, but I want to stay in Orlando. I have a beautiful home there. There are beautiful people down there. My son is in Orlando. He's getting a lot older and I want to be there to see as many moments as I can of his life."