The summer is a down time for the NBA. Normally at this time of year, we are all grasping for straws in trying to come up with content. This summer has been especially bad because of the lockout. There have been no moves to report, no previews to write and nothing to analyze.
This is tough for us here because the Magic's future is especially murky.
Gilbert Arenas and Hedo Turkoglu were major disappointments after the December trades. Jason Richardson is a free agent, leaving Orlando in search of a starting shooting guard. The first round exit has everyone questioning everyone on the roster, minus Dwight Howard. And, oh yeah, Dwight Howard becomes a free agent in 2012. And despite stating all intention to stay in Orlando, that extension remained unsigned heading into the work stoppage.
Everything Orlando does from here on out is going to have an eye on the summer of 2012 and making the city and franchise an attractive place for Howard to play. Conjecturing exactly what moves the team can make is pointless until the new collective bargaining agreement is settled.
As much as we would all like to say Orlando has a deal in place for Chris Paul or Andre Iguodala or even Monta Ellis, there just does not appear to be one in the works, anywhere close to done or possible without the Magic giving up something significant -- and the team is already pretty thin.
Only Howard knows what he truly wants to do.
He has repeatedly said Orlando is his first choice, but he is not going to stay without change and without the team getting a better chance at winning a title. It might just be all the downtime, but it seems every story about Howard comes with some request for the Magic and seemingly some way out for him.
It might just be the downtime (again), but that is what fans are thinking about in the idle time. Fans grew increasingly upset after Howard "requested" fans show up and be loud at Amway Center next year. Howard, in hedging his bets seems to be alienating everyone. Perhaps he recognized this mistake, backtracking for the first time Wednesday in an interview with Zach McCann of the Orlando Sentinel.
"I want to clear it up. In no shape, form or fashion am I criticizing our fans," Howard said Wednesday. "My whole statement was when the season is around, and the playoffs come, it's a different atmosphere. And if you want to win a championship, we all got to act as champions. That's players, coaches and even our city. The city can win a championship, especially a city like ours. We need to come together, and not just for a couple games and the playoffs. If we're together all season, there's no doubt in my mind that we can win a championship. I will know that I have my city behind me.
Howard deserves and has earned the opportunity to weigh his options. He has made no secret about it that is what he intends to do. No one can begrudge him that. But his "requests" -- and sometimes they have been contradictory in Howard wanting some change but also giving the current roster a chance -- have started to rub fans the wrong way and have been more of something Howard might be able to point to and say, "Here is why I left. I told you I might leave if this did not happen."
Howard has hedged his bets and left himself some outs. That has been his PR strategy, and it may be as damaging as LeBron James' parade of suitors, keep everything quiet strategy of revealing his future plans.
It is getting to the point where it is difficult not to believe the national pundits who give Orlando no chance of retaining Howard. Again, Howard has said he wants to stay in Orlando and that it remains his first choice. It just might not be in the cards.
Even those covering the Magic are beginning to have their doubts. A TrueHoop roundtable featuring Eddy Rivera, Nate Drexler and Matt Scribbins of Magic Basketball overwhelmingly believed Howard is not going to be in a Magic uniform come 2012 -- whether he leaves by free agency or trade. Of the writers on the panel, only David Thorpe of Scouts Inc believes Howard will stay in a Magic uniform. But, even he came with a word of warning.
"No one knows, including Dwight," Thorpe said. "If he knew someone like CP3 was heading to O-town, he'd definitely stay. Orlando's execs have to be focused on that. Absent some good player acquisitions, he's gone. Getting studs to team with Dwight should not be hard."
A pretty tall order, it feels.
There seems to be a lot of signs pointing toward an inevitable trade deadline deal sending Howard away or Howard's departure through free agency. Pessimism is pretty quick to take over -- especially with how the national media has painted this story.
One thing we know, and this is very much to Howard's credit, is that he is going to play hard for the Magic as long as he is wearing the uniform. He has repeatedly made that clear in his words and his play. And he re-iterated it to McCann on Wednesday when clarifying his comments about the fans:
"It wasn't me criticizing any of my fans because I appreciate all the people that come and sell out the arena," Howard said. "Just know there's a difference, and you can put this on there or not, I just know there's a difference between the regular season and the playoffs. There's no difference between the regular season, playoffs, whatever. . . I'm going to give 100 percent every time I step on the floor. Like I said, most people don't get but one opportunity to see their favorite player. People who have season tickets, they get to see them play whenever, but most people only have one opportunity, so if you don't go out there and play as hard as you can for the one person that may not ever see you again, they will be disappointed. So I go out, play hard every night. This city's been supporting me, and I want to show them how I feel about them by playing hard every night."
Howard also said he plans on gathering the players before training camp (is supposed to) starts in September after his promotional tours are over and he spends another session with Hakeem Olajuwon. That is the symbol of a leader and someone who is giving his all to his teammates and franchise.
Howard will not let any off-court issues affect the way he plays. He is not going to pout and complain while waiting for his team to trade him. That is not who he is. And if he were, Magic fans would be having a different discussion about whether to trade him or not. Part of Orlando's reluctance to trade him not only is how he dominates on the floor, but also the effort the team knows he will give on a night-to-night basis.
At this point, only Howard truly knows what he wants to do. Until the collective bargaining agreement is resolved, we do not know what moves the Magic can make.
Without the ability to make any moves and remedy any of Howard's requests, the outlook is going to continually look bleak.
Photos via DayLife.com.