With the Lakers season ending the rumor mill was churned faster and faster. Several people believe the Lakers are in for some major rebuilding and many believe Dwight Howard will have some role in that. Even with the highest payroll in the league and a new CBA coming, ESPN and several national pundits would have you believe Howard to the Lakers is all but a done deal.
Even "respected" analysts seem to be handing the league's best center from Orlando to Los Angeles without so much as considering what Orlando might get in return. Or whether they would accept it (for what it is worth, Otis Smith likely does not settle for a deal until the trade deadline or when it becomes clear during the season the Magic are not trending up toward a championship in 2012 or in the very near future).
No one seems to be focusing on what the Magic will do in the wake of Dwight Howard's imminent free agency. No one seems to be focusing on whether Orlando would actually pull the trigger on these potential deals -- such as the Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom for Dwight ... yeah, that is not happening -- or what the future of Orlando might hold.
I believe speculating is a popular, but ultimately unhealthy exercise. I think it distracted from some of what was good and over-accentuated the bad during 2011.
One thing that I am fairly certain of though is that the Magic will not fade into obscurity like the Cavaliers did. That is just not who Orlando has ever been.
Even when Shaquille O'Neal left, the Magic spent only a single season out of the playoffs before the team returned. There may be few years when Orlando realistically believed it could win a title -- really just 1995, 1996, 2000 (maybe), 2009, 2010 and (arguably) 2011 -- but there were many more years where Orlando was in the postseason and having at least the chance of winning.
The Magic have always found a way to matter since tasting the good life in the mid-90s. A championship is the ultimate goal and any franchise should be willing almost to give up anything to get one. But there is no denying that even through some pretty poor management decisions the Magic continued to have some modicum of success -- largely hampered by Grant Hill's injury to move out of the mediocrity of a low playoff seed.
It seems the Magic are staring into the pit of this abyss again. With Dwight Howard's impending free agency, the Magic don't appear willing to stand by and wait for the next big thing to drop in their lap. They showed that in making the ill-fated trade in December and amassing the second largest payroll in the league.
"From a roster standpoint, I think we made moves that we felt would make us better to fight for a championship," Magic CEO Bob Vander Weide said in an interview with Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. "And I don't look back on those changes as being wrong or remiss. As we said before -- and it's not a knock on anybody that was outgoing -- we just didn't think the mix that we had that ended up in Washington and in Phoenix was going to get us a championship.
"So the answer is we'd still have made the changes. We think we still for the future are a better club with those changes. The other answer, though, is if you looked over the last three to four years, in basketball, not some of the other sports, you can't technically buy a championship. The last two out of three years, I think out of the top six spenders, two years in a row four of them ended up in the Eastern and Western Conference finals.
"The answer, then, to your question is simply we did not spend wisely because we did not get to the conference finals or Finals, and we spent 90 million bucks to encourage that opportunity."
The Magic recognize that you have to pay to win and compete for a title. Spending wisely is more important than pure spending and one can argue whether Orlando has done that. But for the first time in Magic history, the Magic are not afraid of putting up the dollars it takes to remain competitive. Certainly Tracy McGrady would have wished Orlando took this mindset when he was playing here.
Vander Weide recognizes Orlando is short of its goal. The team needs to find an additional piece not only to win a title, but to get back into the conversation. Vander Weide told Robbins that the Magic have always been a winning organization even if the execution of that "winning plan" never was executed successfully -- think the Grant Hill injury.
Vander Weide re-iterated that no matter what Dwight decides to do, the Magic are committed as a franchise of bringing a championship to Orlando and putting an entertaining product on the floor. It may just be lip service to the local paper, but that is all you can ask from ownership as a fan. Howard is simply a piece -- a big piece -- to that puzzle. Ownership appears to be committed to at least doing what is necessary to keep Howard in Orlando and compete for a championship.
Again, that is all you can ask for.
"I would say this: We have been a franchise that has been committed to winning and putting the necessary resources behind achieving our goal," Vander Weide said. "Our player payroll is clearly evident of that. We will continue to be committed to winning and doing what we need to do within the framework of the collective bargaining agreement."
Orlando might have a dim future or one that is difficult to predict. It is easy to be pessimistic. But from all accounts, the Magic feel they will not slip into obscurity. A return to the mediocrity of the early 2000s would not be so bad if Howard were to leave. It could be much worse.
And while ownership used to be considered cheap and unwilling to spend. That does not appear to be the case any more.
Photos via DayLife.com.