NBA AM: Has Howard Sabotaged Magic’s Season?
The Orlando Magic entered the season engulfed by a plethora of reports and rumors regarding the future of their franchise player Dwight Howard. You see, Howard has a player option for the 2012-13 season baked into his deal which would allow him to opt out at the end of this season and become an unrestricted free agent.
Fueling the hysteria was Howard’s refusal to sign an extension with Orlando and his trade request prior to the start of the season.
The recent memories of All-Stars LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, who bolted from Cleveland and Denver respectively, when they were in similar positions, are also fresh in everyone’s consciousness – driving the panic.
Despite the prior precedents, the Magic’s front office firmly established early on that Howard wasn’t on the trading block and the team surprisingly was able to storm out of the gates to begin the season – winning ten of their first 13 contests.
However, the team’s lackluster performance over the past two weeks has once again ramped up tensions with the Magic, who now seemingly are in free fall mode after dropping four straight contests. After the strong start to open the season, Orlando has compiled a less-than-stellar 2-6 mark.
Leading to the question: Is Howard actually the source of the problem or part of the solution.
“The best player is always part of both,” ESPN analyst and former NBA player Jalen Rose said on a recent ESPN podcast. “The other fourteen guys are there because he’s there. The issue is your best player has told the world these guys aren’t good enough. I can’t win with these guys. I have to get out of here.”
Rose does have a point.
Howard has specifically asked the Magic for a trade where he publicly voiced his frustration with some of the club’s recent personnel decisions, openly questioning whether Orlando has enough talent to perennially compete at a high level.
Also still fresh in the memory bank is the fact Howard publicly called out his team in the media after a recent loss which has many observers feeling the center effectively ran the proverbial bus over his teammates.
The other issue has been Howard’s willingness to speak glowingly of other franchises while imagining himself on different teams in the midst of Orlando’s struggle.
Over the past week Howard has given in-depth interviews confirming his openness to playing with the Boston Celtics and the Chicago Bulls at the very least, with plenty of reports still persisting Dallas, New Jersey (Brooklyn) and Los Angeles are also places of high interest for the big man.
Rose believes Howard’s antics have impacted his ability to lead and in return his teammates are now just growing through the motions and counting down the days to his inevitable departure.
“The other thing that comes with being a great player is leadership,” Rose said. “To have the other guys trust you, believe in you and listen to you when you’re wrong. But it’s also a two way street. You dish it out; you have to be able to take it. It seems like at this point, one foot is in the door, one foot is out of the door and all of the players are just waiting to see if and when he’s going to get traded.”
So here’s where we are.
The Magic aren’t a title contender as currently constructed by any stretch of the imagination, but they also aren’t as bad as they’ve been over the past two weeks.
There are a few items which have contributed to the deteriorating morale around the club as of late.
With Howard’s future in Orlando uncertain, every loss the team endures gets magnified threefold with head coach Stan Van Gundy visibly getting more and more frustrated.
To be fair, Howard and his camp negotiated a player option into his current deal so it’s his right to be able to explore all of the options available to him as it relates to his career.
However, one cannot dismiss the impact of what those future rights have done to derail the Magic this season.
Howard’s refusal to sign a contract extension was perfectly understandable from a business standpoint given how the league’s collective bargaining agreement is structured, but the early season trade demand, publicly calling out his teammates and the center’s recent exploits seemingly praising every other NBA city but his own hasn’t benefitted the Magic’s locker room one bit.
Despite the club’s recent stretch of abysmal play Magic general manager Otis Smith remains calm and is still promising not to make any knee jerk decisions.
“If a string of losses causes you to change your plans, then I’m in the wrong job,” Smith told Joshua Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. I think you look at your team as a whole and understand that we have to fight through whatever we have to fight through and you continue to evaluate everything top to bottom. That’s what you do. When it’s time to make a change, you make a change. So you have a combination of things. You have a combination of injuries. You’ve got tired bodies. You’ve got good teams [you are facing]. The schedule’s not very conducive to playing very good basketball right now. But we’ve got to fight through it.”
76ers Deny Amar’e Stoudemire Rumor: According to a Sunday report by CSNPhilly.com, which quoted a league source, the Philadelphia 76ers inquired about the availability of New York Knicks power forward Amar’e Stoudemire.
With the Knicks’ season on the ropes and the combination of Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony seemingly failing to mesh with each other on the court, rumors are beginning to trickle in regarding New York’s openness to moving Stoudemire.
The 76ers for their part are denying any involvement in those types of discussions.
When asked about the report on Monday, 76ers team president Rod Thorn emphatically said there was no truth to it “whatsoever. Neither team made an inquiry,” according to Tom Moore of Philly Blurbs.
Pulling off a blockbuster acquisition for a guy like Amar’e Stoudemire, who has the ninth highest salary in the league, would contrast significantly to the slow and steady approach which has the Sixers currently enjoying a five game lead in the Atlantic Division.
Stoudemire is a six time All-Star selection but has been in a season long slump, shooting a career low 41 percent from the floor, after an offseason recovering from a back injury.
The NBA trade deadline in March 15.
Knicks Feeling The Pressure: After signing center Tyson Chandler in free agency to pair with All-Stars Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, the New York Knicks entered the 2012 campaign with expectations sky high.
Unfortunately for Knicks fans if the playoffs were to begin today their team would be watching from home – as non-participants.
Keeping things in perspective the Knicks are less than two games back in the race for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff seed but it’s clear that an eighth seed is a position the club wants no part of.
“We got to get going now,” Stoudemire told Howard Beck of The New York Times. “We don’t want to get too far behind to where we got to dig out of a deep hole. We have a deep enough hole as it is now.”
The Knicks have lost nine of their last 10 games and the pressure on head coach Mike D’Antoni, in the last year of his contract, is starting to increase as the losses continue to pile up.
D’Antoni admitted as much when pressed on Monday.
“I don’t know, are you worried about yours?” D’Antoni said in response to if he’s worried about his job. “Welcome to the club. It’s tough out there. My focus right now is trying to get us to win. “Not having Melo is tough. When he gets back 100 percent, then things will be better. Not great — it wasn’t great before — but it was better. And then Baron gets back, then we should be where we should be.”
NBA Chats: There are three NBA chats scheduled for today starting with HOOPSWORLD’s Anthony Macri at 11am. Coach Macri works with NBA players year around with developing and improving their games and will do his best to answer your questions. Senior NBA writer Eric Pincus will hold down his weekly NBA chat at 4pm EST. Eric covers the Western Conference from LA with the Lakers and the Clippers.