Yesterday, I left off with what I called the Dwight Doomsday scenario. Here I suggested that Howard might retain more power and control over his situation if the Magic hold on to him after the trade deadline by declining his early termination option and holding out for the extra $30 million the team that holds his Bird Rights can give him.
I left off by asking whether going to free agency was the best option for Dwight Howard if he cares about the extra $30 million his Bird Rights holder can offer and if he still considers staying in Orlando a viable option.
The answer might be no.
Howard is technically still under contract for the 2012-13 season. He has an early termination option this offseason which he has suggested he will excercise. There are no indications he would not exercise this option and become a free agent in 2012. But there is still the chance (no matter how remote) that he will decline the use of this option and let this deadline pass (like the Magic plan to let the trade deadline pass).
So let's say it is March 16. Orlando failed to bring in another superstar player, remain the third or fourth seed in the East and are playing relatively well, and did not trade Howard. The next deadline for Howard is in early June when he must exercise or forego his early termination option.
With the possibility of a trade gone and the maximum contract he can make resting solely in Orlando, the balance of power shifts a little bit. If Howard truly wants out of Orlando, he can still leave. If any part of him wants to stay, and the Magic make a deep Playoff run to satisfy his desire to win and improve optimism in the franchise, then Orlando has a chance to persuade him of the team's position.
According to ShamSports, the Magic will have $29.4 million of committed salary for the 2013-14 season if all options are declined. Except for Quentin Richardson's player option and the impending Ryan Anderson extension, that number seems to be where the Magic will land. Hedo Turkoglu, Chris Duhon and Von Wafer all have partially guaranteed contract.
This would mean Orlando would have somewhere in the neighborhood of $24 million in cap room if the salary cap stays at $56 million. That number is expected to increase. Then Orlando has $14 million in wiggle room before hitting the current luxury tax line of $70 million. Again, expect this number to increase.
So let's make some further assumptions.
The Magic can use around $6 million plus the extra $14 million over the cap before the luxury tax line to re-sign Dwight Howard since the team has his Bird Rights. That gives Orlando in the neighborhood of $18 million in cap room. Assuming the team is willing to let Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick walk and trade Hedo Turkoglu (as he would have more value as an expiring contract), the Magic might have enough room to make a run at a big-name free agent in 2013.
Players in the free agent class of 2013 include: Monta Ellis (ETO), Josh Smith, Andre Iguodala (ETO), Stephen Jackson, Anthony Morrow, James Harden (restricted), Tyreke Evans (restricted), Stephen Curry (restricted) and Devin Harris.
You will notice that a lot of those players resemble the list of players Dwight Howard reportedly gave to management that he would like for the team to aquire. This turns Dwight from the recruited to the recruiter. Like what Deron Williams is trying to do, Howard can show the cap room and entice some of these players to join him in Orlando.
None of them are superstars. But if Howard has proven anything in his career, he just needs someone to be able to create off the dribble on the perimeter to free up space for him and keep the floor spaced and Howard will do the rest.
If Orlando is serious about keeping Dwight Howard, I would imagine opening up the books to him and giving him this information would be a big boost. It will just take a little bit of patience on Howard's part and some smart spending on Otis Smith's part.
Neither side at this point seems ready to do that, and so this whole scenario seems unlikely. Smith has never been afraid to spend money and he has often done it unwisely.
But Howard does maintain several advantages by declining his early termination option. If the Magic keep him past the deadline, Howard loses the avenues to get the max deal from another team. He is forced either to take less money or stay with Orlando.
Or he could decline that early termination option, in effect giving Orlando one more chance, especially if the team shows progress throughout the remainder of the season, and go through this whole process again. He would have the ability to sign a max deal with whoever holds his Bird Rights when he becomes a free agent. He might even be able to work an extend-and-trade under that scenario too (I have not seen anything suggesting he would not be able to do this).
Again, all this seems unlikely. Howard seems set for free agency.
It is also worth considering that both Dallas and New Jersey, two of Howard's preferred destinations, have the cap room to sign him outright in free agency this summer (the Mavericks could do some maneuvering to get there).
There are other choices for Howard than deciding whether to stay or go in 2012. That is the point here. And, unfortunately for Magic fans, the best bet to get what they want might be to go through this whole ordeal and process again.