Monday might very well be one of the most important days in Magic history.
Right up there with the day Paul Hewitt and Pat Williams began the ticket drive. Right up there with the day the team won the NBA Draft Lottery in 1992, 1993 and 2004. Right up there with the day Orlando clinched a spot in the 1995 and 2009 NBA Finals. Right up there with the day Tracy McGrady spoke with Jon Weisbrod and Rich DeVos and demanded a trade. Right up there with the day Anfernee Hardaway reportedly led a player revolt against coach Brian Hill. Right up there with the day Nick Anderson stole the ball and the day McGrady and Grant Hill signed minty new free agent contracts.
Those were all big days...
But when Dwight Howard steps into Otis Smith's office Monday morning, the first time players and management will be able to speak with each other since July 1 and the lockout began, the team will have a direction. Howard and Smith will be able to talk about the direction the team is headed and Smith will get a sense of where Howard is in his decision.
Since the tentative agreement was reached, there has been a non-stop influx of rumors concerning Howard. First it was the Nets preparing a package. Then it was the Lakers trying to swing a three-team deal that would involve the Bucks sending Andrew Bogut to Orlando. There were rumors that Orlando might be looking to trade Howard before the beginning of the season and then there were rumors, or rather suggestions, that the Magic would go for broke to bring in a star (I will hit that scenario in a separate post).
Then Dave Bauman of Bright House Sports Network cited a source close to Dwight Howard saying that Howard wants to stay in Orlando, but needs the team to hit a "home run" and bring in another superstar to move this team forward (also will be handled in a separate post).
To this point, Smith has only been able to read and listen to these rumors and has been able to do little about it. It is one thing to talk to Howard's agent, Dan Fegan, and another to sit down and talk with the man himself.
That is precisely what Otis Smith will do at some point on Monday. The meeting is going to be critical for the future of the Magic.
The summer has been spent speculating what exactly the Magic would do and where exactly Dwight Howard is in his decision. That is mostly because the franchise did not know where Howard was at. Smith, for the first time, admitted that he would consider trading Dwight Howard. Of course, his preference is to keep Howard and continue building around the perennial MVP candidate. After all, Howard is the kind of player that makes you relevant no matter who else is on your roster.
Bauman's report seems to be what we would expect from Howard. Howard wants to stay in Orlando, that is his preference, but he wants to win a championship first. And Orlando may not be the place for that.
This is pretty much what I expect Howard to tell Smith when they meet. And Smith will tell Howard what the situation is for him and where he is at in trying to acquire that second superstar to assist Howard. He may tell him that a deal might be possible, but it might mean gutting the roster this year (sort of like the Knicks last year with Carmelo Anthony) and trying to rebuild again in 2013.
It might mean Smith telling Howard, I am trying and what happens if I can't get anything done by this date -- say December 31. What is the point of no return?
Really all Smith may ask for is a heads up for when Howard makes his decision to leave or he may give Howard a deadline to make a decision. The formality of offering an extension will occur, and Howard will say he would like to explore his options. This will not mean that Howard will not eventually sign that extension. Just now is not the time to do it.
This will not be the end of anything. This is just the beginning of it.
The meeting Monday is going to be where Smith begins getting the plans he laid down throughout the summer in motion. Surely he has plans to bring in the big star player or to make a quick exit if Dwight wants to leave. What else would he have done with all this extra time this summer?
Howard will tell him which plan to begin seriously pursuing in tomorrow's meeting. And Dwight may walk out of the meeting knowing where the Magic are going next.
He will continue to waffle in his comments to the media. He won't commit one way or the other until he is 100 percent sure of his decision. And that is his right. It won't stop the rumors that is for sure.
Howard will continue to go about his business. He will probably move his workouts from Rollins College to the Amway Center (he has not returned to the Magic's practice facility since it was re-opened). Stan Van Gundy will address the team about handling the Howard rumors once training camp officially opens Friday. Then Van Gundy will expect his team to be professional and ready to play every night. Van Gundy said he won't answer questions about Howard's future after media day.
He will do his best to keep it from becoming a distraction.
And it may not become a distraction if Howard comes out of the meeting with Smith with an idea of where this team is going and what it is going to do in the very near future to improve itself.
For sure, Monday is a big day at Amway Center. The Magic's future is quite clearly at stake.