Howard's decision is a big victory for the Magic and capped a wild week that saw Howard flip-flop about his future intentions until the final hours before the NBA's trade deadline. By waiving the option, Howard will remain under contract with the Magic through the 2012-13 season and postpone his free agency for at least one more summer.
"I'm glad this is finally over with," Howard said at a news conference to announce his decision.
"It's been very tough for me the past couple months to make a decision. I've been going back and forth. It's not as easy as people think. It's very hard. You're talking about a career-changing event."
Way back in training camp, Howard had asked the Magic to trade him and gave them three preferred destinations: the New Jersey Nets, Dallas Mavericks or Los Angeles Lakers. The Nets had always ranked first on Howard's list, league sources said, until he started second-guessing his desire to leave Orlando.
"I'm too loyal," Howard said. "I've always believed loyalty is above everything."
After Howard repeatedly changed his mind Wednesday on whether to sign a waiver for his contract's early termination option for the 2012-13 season – he told Magic officials he would be back next season then told them later in the day he wouldn't commit to signing the waiver, allowing him to enter free agency on July 1 – he delivered a late-night interview to a basketball website that incredibly reversed course again.
Howard said in the interview with RealGM that he had received "bad advice" in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline.
"I apologize for this circus I have caused to the fans of our city," he said. "They didn't deserve none of this."
He said he made his decision sometime after leaving the locker room of the Magic's loss in San Antonio.
Several of Howard’s advisers and other members of his inner circle were unaware of his change of heart until early Thursday morning.
Prior to Howard's interview, the Magic hurriedly explored the trade options for their All-Star center and engaged the New Jersey Nets on a potential blockbuster deal, sources said. The Magic weren’t willing to end trade discussions until Howard made a commitment to stay long-term with the franchise. They fear losing him in free agency without receiving any real compensation. Orlando officials weren’t expected to suspend trade talks until Howard followed through with his pledge to sign the waiver form.
As one Western Conference executive told Yahoo! Sports. “This is a historic debacle.”
After telling reporters Tuesday night that he hoped to remain with the Magic through the end of the season, Howard reiterated the same message to teammates at a meeting in San Antonio on Wednesday. Howard told teammates that he was “all in” for the rest of the season then proceeded to tell each player what he needed to do for the Magic to win the championship this season, three players told Y! Sports. Howard didn’t commit in the meeting to staying beyond this season.
Howard later had lunch with three teammates in which he told them he planned to opt into the final year of his contract and would remain with the team through next season, a league source said. Howard called Magic CEO Alex Martins from the table and also informed him of his intentions, the source said.
For Howard to eliminate the early termination option from his contract, both he and his agent, Dan Fegan, had to sign waiver paperwork. Before the Magic's loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday, Howard told team officials he wouldn’t be signing the forms.
“Dwight doesn’t want to be the bad guy,” one source involved in the process said of Howard’s past 24 hours. “He doesn’t want to be unpopular. He flaked out.”
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