December 08, 2011
Before LeBron James became a free agent in 2010, the Cleveland Cavaliers did everything in their power to keep him, whether that involved giving his friends and business partners full access to the facilities or generally putting up with more fiddle-faddle than most teams do for their best players. At the time, it seemed like a necessary step to hold on to the best player in franchise history. When LeBron went to Miami, it felt more like coddling or an unprincipled loss of principle. In retrospect, it wasn't worth it.
The Orlando Magic face a similar prospect this season, when Dwight Howard will play out the last year of his contract before becoming a free agent. With trade talks rumored but nowhere near as developed as those involving fellow star-free-agent-to-be Chris Paul (you know, who might be traded by the time you read this), it might be some time before Howard's future club is decided. If he's going to re-sign with the team, it will be because it has convinced him it has his best interests in mind, both in terms of winning championships and off the court.
Still, the Magic aren't going to stress their point. Brian Schmitz has more for the Orlando Sentinel:
This will be different than the Shaq debacle of 15 years ago, when a young, naïve franchise was led on by O'Neal and then low-balled him out of the gate. [Otis] Smith and [Alex] Martins made it abundantly clear that if Dwight wants out, it's on Dwight, not the franchise. Back in the day, Shaq spun it the other way.
[Bob] Vander Weide vowed that the DeVos family will not allow Howard to walk without compensation, as Shaq did. [...]
Smith said the club was "not listening" to everything Howard demands and wasn't going overboard to "placate" him, to which I say, "Why not?" Only a team's future in a new arena is at stake.
Smith doesn't have to let Howard's buddies fly on the team plane; bending over backward for LeBron didn't help the Cavs. But, unfortunately, those favors might be the only kind the Magic can immediately deliver.
It makes sense that the Magic wouldn't try to placate Howard in any way possible. They had a rough go with Shaq in the '90s, and reliving that trauma could be a bad move forward for a team that might have painful rebuilding ahead anyway. Cleveland had a rough time after LeBron left, and it's still unclear when it'll get over it.
On the other hand, Howard is the sort of player who may be worth convincing in any way possible. He's the best big man in the league, and one of the three best to come into the league since Shaq entered the league in 1992. It's exceedingly rare for one team to have two players like Shaq and Howard in a 20-year period -- it's not as if they can expect another guy of this quality to come around anytime soon. Orlando might not be successful -- indications suggest he'll be traded before the deadline -- but it's unclear when it'll have an opportunity like this one again. Is it really worth it for the Magic to lose Howard, even for nothing, if they never see a player of his talent come around for years. Maybe losing some amount of dignity is worth it if it gives them a better chance at keeping him.
Or not. The Magic might have more important things to worry about, because they just had to lay off 20 full-time employees and eliminate 12 open positions. If the Magic are in dire financial straits, they have little chance of convincing Howard they're the right place for him. Better to cut their losses and salvage as much of the future as they can.