Harper: Dwight drama unites us

Without a doubt, the Orlando Magic have had the most dramatic and uncertain offseason in the entire NBA. Dwight Howard has been torturing the fans and the front office since the trade deadline of the lockout shortened the 2011-2012 season and he hasn’t let up for a single second.

The Howard trade talks have swirled around the organization for almost a year now, becoming a huge distraction on and off the court to his Magic team-mates. Among those affected is second-year player Justin Harper, who was in the Cayman Islands last week as part of the annual Orlando Magic Basketball Camp. The former University of Richmond stand-out was at Camana Bay’s Arts and Recreation Centre on Grand Cayman, where he spoke to some 95 kids, aged 7-17, about basketball fundamentals.

At the camp, Harper said that behind closed doors Howard’s situation has done more to unite, rather than divide, the team.

“I can’t really say how I personally feel about the matter,” Harper said, “But I loved the way the team came together last season. We really had to work hard on our camaraderie and chemistry.

“We had to stay close and ignore everything else going on, we just played ball. Especially in the playoffs, we really came together and bonded as a team and our chemistry was clicking. I’m really looking forward to next year, with or without Dwight.”

Howard’s contract with the Magic is due to expire at the end of this upcoming season, making him a free agent and giving him the freedom to sign with any team he so chooses. However, the Magic are not prepared to let the most dominant centre in the NBA walk away without getting anything in return for him. So, a trade is the easy solution. Or so it would seem.

Nothing is simple in business, nothing is simple in basketball. Which means the business of basketball is simply a pain in every front office member’s rear, whether they sit or stand when deliberating over cap space and roster names. As if that weren’t complicated enough, Howard also has an opinion on his destination.

The icing on the cake? Howard’s stance is one of uncertainty: he doesn’t know what he wants. All he knows is that he wants to win and be paid a lot to do it. This has now become, in an amusing ruse of LeBron James’s decision show in 2010, “Indecision 2012.”

Howard has been the face of the Orlando franchise for eight years; he was selected with the number one overall pick in the 2004 NBA draft and averaged a double-double in his rookie year. He’s continued to get better and better. Standing 6’11 and weighing a whopping 270 pounds, he quickly became the most dominant player in the league. He’s second-to-none at the centre position and nobody affects the game on the defensive side of the floor more so then he does.

He’s an obvious star, cornerstone and a vital piece to any championship campaign and the Magic have enjoyed his voracious rebounding and tenacity around the rim for the last eight seasons. Yet the joyride has turned into a steeply declining roller coaster. His time with the Magic has come to an end and it hasn’t been pretty.

It all started when the trade deadline approached in February 2012, the Magic staff asked Howard whether or not he wanted to pick up his player option for the next season. If he said no, he would become the league’s most coveted free agent of the 2012 offseason; if he said yes he would stay in Orlando for one last playoff run with the Magic.

As the trade deadline grew closer and closer, Howard tried his best not to repeat the same mistake LeBron made when leaving Cleveland. He wanted to leave Orlando on a good note, still being beloved by Magic fans without, and not leaving, a burning trail of hate and disgust behind. But, the more he tried, the bigger the mistake it became. His indecision and obsession with appeasement ultimately became his undoing: he opted in to the final year of his contract at the last possible minute, trying desperately to look like the loyal, loving guy that he wants to be.

So, Orlando fans were happy, despite the waiting and the groaning through multiple trade requests. Magic fans didn’t expect it, but he was going to stay on the team until he became a free agent. Or so it seemed. Howard went down with a back injury a week before the start of the 2012 playoffs, sidelining him for the rest of the season.

Even if by some miraculous turn of events the Magic went on a dream run to the finals, Howard’s recovery time was just too long. He remained on the bench and watched as his team was eliminated in the first round by the Indiana Pacers.

After the conclusion of the Finals, the Howard soap opera started all over again. He refused to sign any contract extension with Orlando and demanded a trade to the new Brooklyn Nets. Despite the Magic’s willingness to trade him, by this point it was more desperateness instead, they couldn’t finalize a deal in which the Magic received plenty of draft picks and highly recruited players.

The Nets were iffy about giving up Brook Lopez in a trade and they really didn’t have anything else to offer. The trade talks with the Nets ended, but the Howard indecision didn’t. Dwight constantly demanded a trade, even after meeting face-to-face with the new Magic management. He stated that he would “never sign another contract with the Orlando Magic” again and finished with a resounding “trade me,” much to the dismay of the front office.

Talks with the Los Angeles Lakers opened up and they immediately became a very attractive destination for the superstar big man. Reports of trade packages including Andrew Bynum being sent to the Magic, along with draft picks and throw-in role players, surfaced and brought about talks of a “Big Five” in Laker land.

Steve Nash has already been acquired by the Lakers, pairing him with Kobe Bryant in the back court. But, a potential starting lineup of Nash, Kobe, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and Howard could have L.A talking about a championship. It had Dwight talking about a title too, even thought he was still firm in his stand for an extension with the Nets. However, if anybody can convince Dwight to sign with a team for the long-haul, it would be Kobe.

At this point, trade talks will remain just that: as talks. Nothing will be done till all three sides, the Magic, Dwight and his eventual destination, are all happy with the pieces they’re getting and where they’re going. Despite the uncertainty, the Lakers are staying hot in pursuit. They remain the front-runners in the Howard sweepstakes, while the man himself quickly becomes the most dramatic player in the NBA.

Ultimately, the Howard saga has been dragged on for far too long. Magic fans are fed up, Howard is fed up, the NBA is fed up and all three want a deal done as soon as possible. Whatever happens, there will be a power surge on the team he winds up on. As for the Magic, however, it can be a period of rebuilding and accepting a less-than-successful season or the team will continue to come together and new heroes will come forward over the course of the year.

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