There is no skirting around this. Orlando fans' greatest fears is Dwight Howard one day leaving in free agency.
First off, in all likelihood it will happen. The odds of Howard playing his entire career in Orlando is, unfortunately, low. Still it does not make Howard's departure any less painful. So Orlando is working to prolong the inevitable departure of its brightest star. Hopefully there will be a few titles beforehand.
Brian Schmitz of The Orlando Sentinel reported Sunday that Howard is still weighing his options for this summer and signing an extension is not set in stone. That may not be news to Magic fans, but actually hearing it is somewhat rattling.
Schmitz makes it clear in his article that Howard continues to reiterate his desire to remain in Orlando. The Magic appear to be his first option and he has said as much publicly. But you cannot blame him for leaving his options open and at least exploring the opportunities in free agency. Especially considering a new collective bargaining agreement is due this summer. No one knows what kind of money Howard will be able to make beyond this year when he is eligible for free agency.
It might turn out that Howard can make more money by signing an extension this summer and locking himself into old-collective bargaining agreement money while he still can. Of course, that may not be possible either. You can already see how this summer's collective bargaining sessions are clouding the NBA's immediate future.
And that was really the genius of the move Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James had by allowing themselves to become free agents last summer rather than signing full extensions. They not only enabled themselves to team up (if you believe the collusion stories) but also ensured they could maximize how much money they could make. Even though they all ended up taking less money, it could be widely assumed they are on what would be the maximum under a scaled-back collective bargaining agreement.
The Legion of Doom's arrival in Miami also has another important factor to consider, one Howard is surely going to consider more than anything else: winning.
Howard wants to win a title and it would be no surprise that he is using this season to determine whether the Magic can win a title. Rich DeVos and Otis Smith have shown the commitment to winning a title by trying to build off an already successful formula and opening the pocketbooks to get Howard some help while allowing Howard to mature as a player.
So has Orlando gone as far as it can with this roster? That is what Howard is trying to find out this season. And it will go into his decision-making this summer.
Does this season's result mean Howard will leave or stay in Orlando? He probably will not make his final decision based solely on this season. And, again, you cannot blame him for waiting to make this important decision.
But the announcement of Howard's intentions to wait and see about signing an extension is sure to send Magic fans into full panic mode. It would not surprise me to see Otis Smith have his feathers rankled as well. If the Magic do not appear to have a championship team this year, the cost-cutting and salary slashing may begin. His only saving grace might be Rashard Lewis' contract coming off the books the same year Howard would be eligible for free agency.
Until the questions begin getting answered this summer, Orlando will have to wait on pins and needles and hope the team does enough to convince Howard to sign on the dotted line early.