There was a wave of positivity flowing from Magic fans after Dwight Howard's announcement at his Memorial Day bar-b-q that he preferred to stay in Orlando. It was music to Magic fans' ears after a disappointing postseason and looking ahead to an uncertain and critical offseason.
Dwight Howard's free agency is coming whether we like it or not. According to Jarrod Rudolph of RealGM Dwight Howard is not close to signing a two-year extension as David Pingaloire of WKMG Channel 6 News reported late Monday. The inevitable is coming.
Howard's comments are a very positive sign for Orlando.
He wants to be in Orlando. His focus is to make the Magic better. He is not, as some in the national mediia may have you believe, plotting his exit out of Orlando. As numerous people are saying, you don't just throw a bar-b-q for free for any city. You only do it for YOUR city.
Howard wants Orlando to be his city.
But the bar-b-q was also something of an ultimatum or a challenge for the fans and the franchise. He wants Orlando to become a "big market" and that comes with certain responsibilities.
The first responsibility is on the team and franchise. Build a team that can compete and win a championship. Howard has seen the top of the mountain and his number one priority is reaching it the next time he comes within sight. He is all about winning. If he feels Orlando is not the place for him to win, he will leave with well wishes for the first city he played for.
Howard is certainly trying to win the battle of public perception urging the fans to get on his side. But he also is putting out something of a call to arms for Magic fans.
He wants everyone in the organization and the city to get behind the team and get the Magic to the next level.
"I want to be here in Orlando," Howard told the fans that attended his bar-b-q. "But we need all y'all to be behind our team. We need the city behind us.
"They always say we're a small market team or a small city, but that's OK because we've got great people here. If we come together, we can make everything we want in Orlando happen. But we need all of you guys to do that.
"You stand with Orlando, you shouldn't be cheering for nobody else but the Magic. I don't care who's coming to town. That's the truth. We're going to do our part. I know we didn't have a good season ending this year. But it's OK, there's always next year. We're going to be in the gym working hard to get better."
I know Howard has expressed his annoyance in the past with fans wearing opposing team's jerseys. You could even sometimes hear opposing teams trying to start chants in Amway Center. Howard clearly is annoyed by this and wants fans to rally behind the team for the upcoming season. A call to arms indeed.
Howard is launching an ambitious plan to get the franchise to take notice, if anything else. He, like us, expects this team to be the best.
Orlando, of course, is in a tricky situation to do this. As Zach Lowe of The Point Forward points out, Orlando might as well be a big market already with Rich DeVos racking up the second highest payroll in the league already. Otis Smith swung and missed on the midseason trades, further handicapping an already-cash strapped team.
Howard clearly wants to stay in Orlando. But it has to be a good situation for him. Winning help, moving toward winning might help even more.
"I think what you need to focus on is the message that Dwight is getting out there and I think it is a message to the organization," Rudolph told Mike Bianchi on Bianchi's radio program Tuesday. "Every time Dwight Howard does something like he did [Monday], not only is he making himself look good, but he is making the organization look good. And you're bringing a feel to the city.
"[The Magic] have to do the same thing. They have to expand the way they market this guy. They have to expand the way they market this team. They have to be creative and make Orlando a Magic city, not just a Disney city. And that's what I believe this guy has been trying to get across to everyone the entire time."
Rudolph noted how whenever Howard travels to other major cities, he sees Kobe Bryant or Derrick Rose front and center in their cities. What Howard seems to want is to be the centerpiece of the city. He should and could be.
What Howard is saying is he wants the town to be more than just known for Disney -- he wants Orlando to gain an identity. Maybe he is overly ambitious or simply trying to save face if things go south. He is either a brilliant motivator or a brilliant public relations guy.
Howard seems to be wanting everyone to get behind the team and give it the boost he imagines. Of course, that can only do so much.
You can already see the double meaning in just about every statement Howard has made.
I do not want to sound like I am doubting Howard's sincerity. I do truly believe Howard wants to stay in Orlando. But it will take more than a bar-b-q and some words to convince me 100 percent that he is signing that extension. Until then, excuse me and the rest of the media for looking for any hidden meaning in Howard's words.
Photo via DayLife.com.
Seeing homecourt fans root for the opposition can certainly be painful. It's reasonable for Dwight to ask for more commitment from fans, and teammates. The method he's asking for that is also very appropriate.
He really does have a good head on those shoulders. He's made his requests.. Now let's see if he can get what he's asked for.