We are hanging on just about every word Dwight says nowadays. Not only do we hang on those words, we try to interpret them and find meaning in them whenever we can. Call it "Impending Free Agent-itis."
Howard made several comments while he was in Spain this weekend about what he would like to see in the future of this team from Stan Van Gundy's performance in 2010-11 and the best way to use Gilbert Arenas.
"I should be involved," Howard said. "For seven hard years I've done everything I could in Orlando for us to win a championship and I think I deserve an opportunity to help make decisions as far as the future."
Players helping make personnel decisions is a touchy subject. Usually that demand precedes a trade demand (remember Tracy McGrady or post-Shaq Kobe Bryant anyone?). Often players do not know the full financial ramifications of moves and then often do not realize how difficult it can be to play with friends. Players, if they want to make input, are probably better off suggesting a type of player to acquire rather than a specific player.
Howard has had some input. He encouraged Matt Barnes to sign with Orlando in 2009. But other than that, it is unclear how much the Magic consult with Howard before making moves. Jarrod Rudolph of RealGM reported earlier this month ago that Howard had suggested several names of players to acquire in the past that have not come through (for financial reasons or otherwise).
I would assume Howard suggested a direction he would like to see the team go in when he spoke with owner Rich DeVos and team president Bob Vander Weide before beginning his European promotional tour.
Howard though threw some support behind Stan Van Gundy, whom many have heaped blame in the wake of the Magic's first-round exit and pressure on to fix the ship quickly.
"I think Stan did a good job coaching this year," Howard said. "He has had us prepared for every game, for every playoff series that I've ever been in. . . . He has made sure that we were well-prepared. I like what he did."
No coach is as prepared as Van Gundy. It honestly might be his weakness in that he gets wrapped up too much in the minutia of things. He definitely always has his team ready to play, even if they sometimes struggle to execute.
What was interesting regarding Howard's comments about Stan Van Gundy was his (light) criticism on how he handled Gilbert Arenas.
"I don’t think our coach used him the right way, but I think he can do a lot of great things for our team," Howard said. "He promised me this summer he was going to get better, physically and mentally, so he can come back and have an awesome year. I'm looking forward to that.
"I just felt like he didn't get the opportunity to play his style but also play with me. I think he needed to. I think he got a couple of opportunities to do it in the playoffs, but it was kind of too late. So I think he will be great for us."
Otis Smith made it pretty clear after the season ended that Van Gundy and Arenas were going to have to find a way to work together. Gilbert does not appear to be leaving Orlando any time soon and so it is imperative that both Arenas gets healthy and Van Gundy maximizes his talent. Arenas appears to be doing the getting healthy part in between his sometimes scandalous tweets.
Arenas did not spend a whole ton of time with Howard on the floor. But four of the Magic's best 20 lineups this season had Arenas and Howard on the floor together, including two of the best five. The Arenas/Redick/Turkoglu/Anderson/Howard lineup was fourth best according to 82Games.com and had a +36 in 97.6 minutes on the floor together. The group posted a 0.96 points per possession rating the best of the top five lineups.
Likely this lineup was used against reserve players, so who knows how reliable that statistic might be, but it suggests an Arenas/Howard pairing might benefit the team.
Arenas has to play better though and be given the freedom (if healthy enough to do so) to play like he did in Washington if he wants to be successful. Of course, we will not know whether that is a possibility until training camp.
Again, very little has changed concerning Howard and his future. Howard is, at least publicly, trying to do everything he can to make the Magic a better team. And he would love to be on it. But there are still a lot of decisions to be made and games to be played before we get the resolution we want.
So fans, keep hanging on.
Photos via DayLife.com.