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Pros and cons of the Magic starting this season with Dwight Howard

Dwight HowardOrlando MagicHouston RocketsBrooklyn NetsNBAAmway Center

The latest rumor in the Dwight Howard saga is that the Orlando Magic might not trade Howard at all.

That isn’t new news. Magic general manager Rob Hennigan has been saying publicly for at least two weeks that he hasn’t ruled out having Howard begin training camp on the roster and that he won’t trade Howard until the team receives an offer it likes.

In addition, HoopsWorld is reporting that Hennigan and his staff are planning to visit Los Angeles later in the week to try and pursuade Howard to stay. Hennigan did not return messages Tuesday from the Orlando Sentinel for comment.

Keeping Howard — at least until the trade deadline — would give the Magic additional chances to convince him to stay long-term.

And if Howard still isn’t sold on the franchise’s direction by then, the realities of the new collective bargaining agreement and other teams’ cap situations might compel him to remain with the Magic.

The Brooklyn Nets, his preferred destination, won’t have the cap space to sign him to anything close to a maximum deal when Howard becomes a free agent in July 2013. The Los Angeles Lakers won’t either.

The only team that could offer him a five-year, $117 million contract in free agency next summer will be the team that has him at the end of the 2012-13 season. Other teams “only” could offer, at the maximum, a four-year deal worth about $87 million.

The differences between those two deals can be wildly overstated. A player of Howard’s caliber should have no problem earning another maximum-salary contract at the end of any four-year deal, so Howard eventually would make up most of the difference.

I remain skeptical that the Magic will enter training camp with uncertainty about Howard’s future, and even Magic CEO Alex Martins has indicated that he doesn’t like that scenario.

“I don’t think anybody wants to go through the season that we’ve just been through,” Martins said on May 10.

“I think anybody . . . [affiliated with the 2011-12 team] will tell you in their careers they have never been through a season like we’ve been through this season. Certainly, in my 25 years, I haven’t been. So we’re going to do everything that we need to do to make sure that we put ourselves in a position not to go through the season that we just did.”

So, let’s try to look at this objectively. What are the potential positives and what are the potential negatives if Howard begins camp with the Magic?

Potential positives to Howard beginning the season with the team:
1. Maintaining hope: Keeping Howard at the start of the season is the only way the Magic would have any hope of keeping him long-term. There’s another way to put this: The minute the Magic trade Howard, the team guarantees he’s gone for good.

Howard is one of the top five players in the NBA and is the NBA’s best defensive player. You don’t trade away someone that good unless you absolutely must trade him.

Howard seems adamantly opposed to staying long-term in Orlando. But he has changed his mind before. Perhaps Hennigan and the new coach, whomever that turns out to be, can help sway him.

2. Financial leverage: The only way the Magic could offer Howard a five-year, $117 million free-agent deal is to still have him at the end of the 2012-13 season. Again, the only way to lose that financial advantage is to trade him away.

3. More time to add pieces: Aside from Howard himself and J.J. Redickand his expiring contract, the Magic have precious few tradeable assets on their roster. So it would difficult for the Magic to work a trade to acquire a high-quality player, such as Milwaukee’s Monta Ellis, who could give Howard reason for optimism.

Still, maybe the Magic could acquire someone between now and the trade deadline.

What would it hurt to try?

4. Ticket sales: With Howard, the Magic would be a winning team. Without him, and assuming the Magic doesn’t acquire a veteran star for him in a trade, the team would struggle. The best way to sell tickets is to put a winner on the floor.

5. Changing his mind: Magic officials believe they’ve lost traction with Howard when they’ve had limited face-to-face contact with him: during the 2010 lockout and, now, in the weeks since his April 20 back surgery. Maybe his mind will change the longer he’s in Orlando and around the organization.

Potential negatives to Howard beginning training camp with the team:
1. Drama: Questions about Howard’s future would loom over everything the Magic do — every practice, every exhibition game and every regular-season game. No one wants that.

2. It would hamper the head coach and Hennigan: The new coach — probably Jacque Vaughn — and Hennigan will be entering their first seasons in their new jobs. They will attempt to put a new culture into place, and having Howard around, with all of the questions it would create, would make it difficult to establish that culture.

3. Losing leverage: Although the Magic almost certainly would be able to trade Howard to the Nets when Brook Lopez becomes trade-eligible again on Jan. 15, the Magic would see their trade hopes with other teams erode. Right now, the Houston Rockets are willing to trade for Howard without any assurances from him that he would stay beyond the upcoming season. But the Rockets’ chances to convince him to stay in Houston would diminish with each day that passes from now on, making the Rockets less likely to trade for Howard as time goes on.

4. Surreal scene: It takes a lot to anger Magic fans — face it, this city’s fans never will be as vocal, for good or bad, as fans in Philadelphia or New York or Boston or Chicago. That said, if Howard ever steps onto the Amway Center court as a Magic player again, there is a strong possibility he will be booed. He would dread that. And so would Magic officials.

5. Teammate tension: There were plenty of moments last season when Howard’s Magic teammates resented the circus and the constant trade rumors created by Howard’s uncertain situation. Can the Magic’s locker room chemistry withstand more tension?

* * *

Do you have any positives or negatives to suggest? If so, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Follow Josh Robbins on Twitter at @JoshuaBRobbins and e-mail him at jrobbins@orlandosentinel.com. Subscribe to our Orlando Magic newsletter at OrlandoSentinel.com/joinus.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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