With less than 24 hours until the NBA trade deadline, it appears Dwight Howard is putting some action (finally) to his words committing further and further to the Magic.
UPDATE: And then after a frantic evening where Dwight Howard reneged on his decision to opt in to the final year of his contract, Howard finally went on record, telling Jarrod Rudolph of RealGM that he will remain with the Magic through the end of this season and remain under contract for the 2012-13 season. Howard also apologized for putting Magic fans through this circus.
Again, as we learned after the first reports came out this afternoon (described below), nothing is official until it is official. Howard still has to put pen to paper. Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld though says that looks more likely to actually happen Thursday morning. And Howard may also fire his agent, Dan Fegan, whom many believe has an agenda to get Howard out of Orlando.
It is still very possible Howard has yet another change of heart.
But I tend to trust Jarrod. He and Dwight Howard are very close, going so far as to say on Magic DriveTime on Tuesday that he would call Dwight a friend. Take that however you want.
Rudolph will post his full exclusive interview with Howard on RealGM.com (I posted this update at 2:15 a.m. and I need some sleep). He will also be on 740 The Game with Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi on Thursday morning.
A night after publicly declaring he wanted to stay in Orlando for the rest of the year and he had expressly told Magic ownership this despite their moves to begin the process of trading Howard, sources and reports say Dwight Howard informed teammates in San Antonio tonight that he will opt in to the final year of his contract and forego free agency in 2012.
WFTV's Christian Bruey was the first to report this news:
Bruey reports that he has yet to officially file the papers as of 4:12 p.m., but with other reporters such as Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel, Ken Berger of CBS Sports reporting the same thing, the smoke is billowing and suggesting the fire that Howard is planning to remain with the Magic at least for the 2012-13 season. And that delay continues to have many wringing their hands.
UPDATE: Dwight Howard informed the Magic late Wednesday while the team was on the bus to AT&T Center for Wednesday's game that he will not sign a waiver of his early termination option according to several reports, including this one from Paul Kennedy of Sun Sports:
Reports are starting to surface saying that Howard's message to his teammates in a meeting Wednesday in San Antonio stated that he was "all in" for this year only and he was not talking about next year. Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated is reporting the Magic continue to be active in trade discussions involving Howard.
Orlando still seems intent on trading Howard until he backs up his words with the commitment to be on the roster past July 1. It appeared that he would not be doing that and so the Magic are going to continue the process to move the superstar center.
Brian Serra of MagicBasketballOnlline reported though that the Magic still hold out hope that Howard will change his mind one more time. That appears unlikely as the opt-in form requires Howard's signature and his agent Dan Fegan's signature. That hope seems to be well founded now.
Serra's source says Fegan is pulling the strings, so to speak, and causing all this uncertainty on Howard's part:
Magic brass were reportedly infuriated with Howard's comments to the press that he was hoping to stay in Orlando for the remainder of the year and it spurred them to re-double their efforts to trade him before Thursday's deadline. That and reports from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports that Howard was planning to go to New Jersey one way or another had many taking Howard's request to "roll the dice" with a grain of salt.
If Howard intends to decline his early termination option though, it puts some action behind his words. He is giving a commitment to staying for the rest of the year and giving the Magic some assurance that the risk will be somewhat worth it.After last night's win against Miami, it was clear there is still some fight in this team and that it can still compete with the best in the NBA... in the regular season at least.
You cannot say one win will change anyone's mind. But maybe the emotion of the evening got to him and persuaded him to give this whole thing one more try. Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld reports there was "stunned" from those around Howard by his sudden change of heart:
This is a very surprising turn in the Dwight Howard saga without doubt.
Howard has waffled all season. And this "change of heart" ranks right up there in the shock-o-meter with Rich DeVos' decision not to sell the team after it sat out on the market for a little less than a year and cities like Louisville and St. Louis swarmed around this franchise. This day might very well go down in Magic history as big as that day more than a decade ago.
My sense of things has been that Howard loves Orlando and loves his fans, but had become less than enamored with the organization. He wanted to test the waters and see what was out there in the market, leaving Orlando as a legitimate option. It felt like his advisers were the ones trying to push him to the bigger markets and putting that bug in his ear.
Howard seemed out the door. And he might still be. He might still be traded if Orlando does not adequately improve the team or even if it does.
There are still a lot of moving pieces to sort through still.
Most important of them is Howard signing the documents declaring he will decline his early termination option. Both Howard and his agent, Dan Fegan, need to sign and file the paperwork with the team. Until that happens, the Magic have to proceed like they will still trade him by Thursday's 3 p.m. ET deadline.
And the Magic will do what is in their best interest. That appears to be avoiding the mistake that let Shaquille O'Neal walk for nothing.
The ball is back in Dwight's court... the Magic will not wait to 3:01.