Everyone is going to have to resist the temptation to analyze every word and syllable Dwight Howard says and to overanalyze every game that is played. The whispers of Dwight Howard putting on a poor offensive show in Sunday's preseason loss to the Heat began before the game had even ended. That notion is completely not true. Howard was strong defensively as he always is and had a bad night offensively (the Magic barely gave him much of a look on the offensive end in this one). It was a preseason game, there is very little to take out of it.
Still, what we do know is that Dwight Howard wants a trade out of Orlando. And quite clearly the team that is on the floor is not going to convince him to stay.
What we also know is that Howard has four preferred destinations. The Magic gave Howard's agent, Dan Fegan, permission to speak with the Nets, the Lakers and the Mavericks. Howard reportedly also added Orlando to that list. It seems these are the four teams that are in the running if he gets to free agency for 2012.
It feels like Orlando is playing a game of chicken right now. The management believes it can do what it takes to keep Dwight Howard in Orlando for a very long time. And it is clear from Howard's statements to the press that he is seriously looking elsewhere and does not believe Orlando is where it needs to be as a franchise to satisfy what he wants to do.
Why these places though? What is Howard's motivation for pointing to these three specific cities outside Orlando? What is really motivating Howard?
Winning is the simple answer. It is the really simple answer.
We all assume at this point that if the Magic had a roster that unequivocally could win a championship this year and for the foreseeable future, Howard would have already signed that extension.
But this is a post-Decision world. LeBron James may have flipped that whole notion on its head. He was on a team that was in the Eastern Conference Finals, on a perennial contender, in a city that he could get away with murder in (seriously, he could), with an ownership willing to spend and do whatever it took to keep him happy and put a winning team on the floor. And it still was not enough. James left to play with his friends in the warmer climate of Miami.
There are other concerns besides winning. Take a look at Howard's list again:
To get to New Jersey, as is reportedly close to happening, the Nets would be giving up Brook Lopez and likely some other pieces. Deron Williams and staying with Hedo Turkoglu, the Nets are better than the Magic. But are they a championship team? Saddled with Turkoglu's contract and then largely filler, the Nets will have to spend wisely to get to a championship level. This year, even with Howard and Williams, would they be better than the current Magic squad? Experience says no.
In the long-run? That depends how good Billy King is in spending the cap space he will have in 2012 and 2013. Joe Dumars proved just having cap room does not guarantee smart spending.
To get to the Lakers, they would have to give up Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. The Lakers do not seem willing to do that. But if they were, that would leave a gutted roster that has Howard and Kobe Bryant as centerpieces. And then an aging Metta World Peace and some filler players. Again, is that roster better than what the Magic have even if they add Hedo Turkoglu to that mix? Not this year. In the future as cap room clears up? Yes, it does. The Lakers find ways to attract the best players and always stay competitive. I am sure they will spend their money wisely. Although, that is never a guarantee.
The Mavericks? They don't appear to have the young pieces or draft picks the Magic would want. A trade there seems unlikely. However, Dallas has an amnesty still in their pocket (to use on Brendan Haywood assumedly), a team option on Lamar Odom and some wiggle room to bring in Dwight Howard with another move in free agency. The Mavericks were champions last year and have aspirations to bring in Deron Williams in free agency too. This is a team with winning very much on its mind.
So, if you choose to believe the Lakers and Nets would only be marginally better this year than the Magic as currently constructed if Dwight Howard, you wonder whether other interests are ruling the day. The always poignant Bill Simmons took Howard to task for his selections:
"Let's say Orlando changes its mind — New Jersey would have Deron Williams, a slew of awful contracts, deep pockets and the Brooklyn thing going. There's a ton going on, no question. I like the Howard/Williams pairing, absolutely. But that's not a guaranteed title contender for a couple of years … at least.
"That brings us back to the 'What's important to you, Dwight?' question. Again, it's unclear why he soured on Orlando — it's hard for me to believe that 'Otis Smith doesn't give me input' trumps loyal fans, warm weather, no state taxes and a half-decent basketball situation (Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson, Redick, Ryan Anderson, Glen Davis and whatever Turkoglu gives them) that matches what he'd have in, say, New Jersey. If he cared about winning titles AND playing in a big market AND finding a trade partner that actually made sense for Orlando, he would have picked these two destinations [Dallas and Los Angeles] as well."
That is quite clearly the question. Is Howard after championships or after playing in a big market and using championships to increase his marketing portfolio? If he could do the championships to get the marketing opportunities then the big market would not matter as much perhaps. But he does not have that championships and a bigger stage is necessary for Dwight to get what he wants on and off the court.
Certainly those three teams appear to have brighter futures than the salary cap hell the Magic have found themselves in -- with money committed to Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Glen Davis for at least the next three years. But any crafty general manager can find their way out of hell with some patience.
Dwight Howard does not have that patience right now with the leverage to force his way out. And very few people outside the organization have the faith Smith can deliver in time to placate Howard.
It is clear from the teams Howard is looking at that winning is not his only motivator. It certainly is a requirement that these teams be championship contenders for them to be eligible for Howard's services. But it is not the final requirement for sure. Howard wants something more than just to win a championship.
The bottom line is, right now, and looking into the nearby future, the Magic cannot provide Howard with that. They are not in position to win a championship this year and they do not have the pieces to build a championship in the near future. Howard sees the clock beginning to tick on his prime and knows he needs to cash in.
That goes in more than one way. Orlando is not a major media market. Disney is right down the road, but they aren't selling any shoes any time soon --- they are not selling Modern Warfare 3 either -- and are not seeking Howard to be the new Mickey Mouse. There are more opportunities elsewhere, and that is something that works against Orlando and always will (sorry).
In his mind, Orlando is not the place that Howard can accomplish these goals.