May 9, 2012, 10:30 AM EST
Maybe the Orlando Magic learned a lesson from the disaster that was last season.
Heading into this summer the Magic’s top priority is to get Dwight Howard to sign a long-term extension with the team, but CEO Alex Martins — the guy who worked hard to buddy up to Howard last season — sounded more definitive than he has in the past.
Here is what he said after the Magic were eliminated from the playoffs by the Indiana Pacers Tuesday, via tweets from David Baumann of BHSN & News 13 in Orlando:
I asked #Magic CEO Martins if he’ll trade #dwighthoward: “We’ll cross that bridge when it comes to it…#1 goal is to get him to sign ext.”
Magic CEO Martins told me on camera #dwighthoward needs to sign long term extension or “necessary decisions will be made.”
Magic CEO Martins wants long term extension from #dwighthoward” so we don’t go thru a season like we went thru this year,” he told me.
Last season was a disaster. That despite stretches on the court when Orlando played well and looked like the third best team in the East.
But that calm surface belied what was really going on below — Howard had asked for a trade and listed the teams he would go to (Lakers, Mavericks, Nets). But the Magic (and CEO Martins) worked hard to change his mind, to sell Howard on how much he was part of the Magic family. Eventually Howard did change and say he wanted to stay. Then he reversed and asked for a trade again. Then he reversed again and eventually decided to sign a paper waiving his right to opt out this summer and he stayed with the Magic. In all that, Howard asked the Magic to fire coach Stan Van Gundy, which Van Gundy got word of and made public.
It was a train wreck that would have derailed the Magic season even if Howard had not ended up needing back surgery for a herniated disc and missing the end of the season and the playoffs.
For Howard, it sounded like he wanted to find a way to make it work out in Orlando but those around him were pushing him to opt out this summer and test the market. Howard was not in control of his own people.
For Orlando, they bent over so far backward to try and keep Howard happy and in house that they allowed the situation to spiral out of control.
Maybe Martins means what he says now. As the summer arrives time has come for Howard to make a decision. The money isn’t the issue here — Howard is a max player and will get the Magic’s max offer or someone else’s (Orlando can offer one more year and larger raises, totaling about $30 million more than anyone else).
The Magic may make some concessions to Howard — Stan Van Gundy says he wants to return as coach but nobody outside the organization and around the league expects him to. But a new coach will not solve the roster issues that have the Magic behind the Bulls and Heat, and maybe even the improving Pacers and others in the East. If winning is really Howard’s priority then he has some tough decisions to make.
So does Jameer Nelson — the Magic’s point guard and second best player can opt out of his deal this summer ($7.8 million next year) as well and is interested in some long-term security. Here is what Nelson told the Magic’s official reporter.
“I’d love to stay here in Orlando and I want to be in Orlando. I have to sit down with my agent and my family and decide what’s best for myself,’’ Nelson said. “We just have to sit down and talk to the organization about what’s going on and make a decision.’’
What is going on with the organization? That’s the question.
Martins sounds in those quotes like a guy who wants some more definitive answers this summer — Howard needs to sign an extension or they are shopping him around. Which is what they need to do. They have shown Howard how much they want him, but in the end this is a business and Howard either needs to be in or out.
We’ll see. This summer in Orlando could be almost as interesting as the past season. But the Magic hope not.
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