Over the next few weeks Orlando Magic Daily will be taking a look at the things that went right and wrong this season as Orlando ended its season with a disappointing first-round loss to Indiana.
In late March, I decided to undertake a little project. The Dwight Howard maelstrom had calmed down and I wanted to find a way to recap the whole thing. I started a Storify of just about every Dwight Howard post I (and others) had written since the end of last year. Yeah, it was a monumental task as a lot of posts and stories had been written about Howard in the past 12 months in the lead up to what many believe will be his free agency. Many more will be written in the next year as Howard actually enters free agency.
I have kind of abandoned the idea for now. It may pop up again.
Just like the Dwight Howard saga seems to be popping up again now -- Chad Ford said in a chat: "I think everyone realizes he's gone sooner or later and the focus will be on how to best rebuild the team," (h/t Evan Dunlap of Orlando Pinstriped Post) and then another report came out from Clutch Fans that the Rockets were the last team standing before Howard declined his early termination option and are expected to chase Howard again, even if it is just on a rental basis (again h/t Evan Dunlap of Orlando Pinstriped Post).
What went horribly wrong this season? That answer is quite simple. Orlando -- the team, the players, the franchise, the organization and the fans -- were never quite sure how fully invested the superstar player and linchpin of the team was to playing for this team.
Howard played hard. I do not want to suggest that he didn't. He constantly said throughout the season that he believed in his teammates and that this team could do something special if they all bought in and played hard. That never happened.
As J.J. Redick described it on NBC Sports Talk, this season got a little weird.
The Howard story was the dominant story of the season for the Magic. It did not tank the season and will not be used as an excuse -- after all, the Magic were third in the East for a good chunk of the season -- but even Stan Van Gundy and several players said during exit interviews that it was something that was a major distraction and kept the team a little on edge. It is probably safe to assume that the distraction kept the team from realizing its full potential.
It is life in the NBA, so don't blame that for the team's play.
What made this part of the season so awful was seeing how both Howard and the Magic organization crumbled under the pressure and devolved into a carnival sideshow that was an embarrassment to fans.
Worse than that, fans had no idea how to feel and were cheapened in the process. Management and Dwight Howard did not mean to do this, but it was like being in the middle of a nasty divorce. Fans were the tool used to make the other look like the bad guy. In the end, many Magic fans hated both sides, and that is not where the Magic or Howard want to be.
Howard has taken the biggest fall. There were moments when fans were fed up with his act and expressed that at games. Yes, Howard got booed at home this season. That is an uncomfortable place for Howard to be. For the most part he does not deserve it.
For what he put the Magic through, he might though. Howard and the Magic (for their poor handling of the entire situation and the constant leaks and misinformations that came out throughout the whole ordeal) were mired in a muddy, disgusting battle.
The Magic are not free of culpability either. Otis Smith messed up with his poor planning and roster missteps that led to the situation where Orlando is now. Stan Van Gundy deserves culpability for coming out into the open with the Magic's dirty laundry and, according to some reports, really angering Howard.
Most of all though, Alex Martins deserves some blame for holding to the hard line of keeping Dwight Howard at all costs. According to some reports, Smith and Van Gundy were prepared to trade Howard at the deadline before Martins and ownership stepped in to say no. That led to more discord within the franchise.
While you want to keep one of the best players in the league on the roster, when a player requests a trade in the public manner Howard did and dropped hints in the public manner without much of a change of tone until even that press conference where he professed his "loyalty," moving on was probably the easiest and most painless option. Certainly, it would have helped everyone save face. That is the biggest embarrassment of all for the franchise.
Of course, it could all pan out if Howard does sign that long-term extension.
They still did all this without the guarantee that Dwight Howard would sign a long term extension. Without that guarantee, the franchise delayed the inevitable and cost themselves valuable resources (namely their coach) and a whole lot of good will -- both with fans and with Howard.
Everyone just wants this over. Unfortunately, it looks like the Dwight drama is set to begin again.
What Went Right: We All We Got