The Dwight Howard saga took on a new direction today.
The Magic don't want to trade Dwight Howard. In fact, they want him to stay in Orlando. Ideally they'd like him to sign a long-term contract extension, but if he's unwilling to do that, then they'd settle for him extending his current contract by one year and remaining in Orlando through the playoffs and into next season.
The public knowledge of that intention has cost the Magic something; leverage. They've basically ceded most of it to Howard. The impact of that is becoming more and more obvious.
Initially, the result of its intention to retain Howard was thought to be that Orlando would make an effort to land another dynamic player in hopes that the pair would be able to either make the Finals, or, better still, win an NBA championship.
There's nothing inherently wrong with that strategy. Teams enact win-now strategies all the time in sports. Sometimes those strategies pay off, and sometimes they backfire. With the Orlando Magic facing the prospect of losing their franchise player and teams around the league aware of their circumstance, the Magic don't stand to receive fair market value for Howard even if they did decide to trade him.
There is something wrong when the team gives so much leverage to an individual player that it becomes public knowledge that he can basically act not just as the teams' dominant player, but as their top front office employee as well
That is what is now rumored to be happening in Orlando. Ric Bucher of ESPN.com is reporting that Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins has told Howard that if he stays in Orlando, then he can have final say over the job status of both his coach, Stan Van Gundy, as well as the team's general manager, Otis Smith.
Bucher has not said that Howard has literally demanded this type of control, but there's little reason to think that the team's CEO would grant it without at least some form of evidence that it would appeal to Howard.
There's no rational reason for Howard to want this type of control. Plenty of players have won without coaches they liked. Plenty of players have won without general managers they liked. Players play, coaches coach and general managers manage.
It actually gives Howard too much control over the fortunes of the Magic. If Howard did get that control and he did exert it, the fallout from the team not succeeding would no longer be spread amongst his teammates, his coach and his management. No, if this didn't work out, the blame would all fall on the shoulders of Howard.
In addition, how will his current teammates react to this type of revelation. The potential for internal team problems is increased exponentially with players now able to have a valid concern that if their game is not to Howard's liking, they could find themselves with reduced minutes or an altered role on the team.
Finally there's the current plight of both Coach Van Gundy and the general manager, Smith. Both men must feel somewhat marginalized. They're both bright enough to know that Howard's fate would eventually have a major impact on their own fates, but surely neither of them could have anticipated Magic upper management literally giving control over their livelihoods to a 26-year-old player who may or may not even be on the team in 72 hours.
The mere fact that Howard has yet to commit to a long-term extension with the Magic shows that Howard's priorities are not rooted in the prolonged success of the Magic. He's in it for himself and his career. There's nothing wrong with that, it's okay to look out for one's personal best interest.
The roles of head coach and general manager are both roles that should be determined by the candidates most qualified to look out for the best long term interests of the team. For Orlando Magic ownership to give control over those positions to someone overtly interested in his own long-term success is irresponsible and will probably yield poor results.
So why on earth would Howard even want all this control or all this responsibility? It's an intriguing question. The best answer would be to show his ability to exert control over the current negotiations. Howard does not have a no-trade clause. If the Magic do decide to trade Howard, he has very little say over where he will spend the remainder of the 2012 season.
Once the season concludes, Howard can make a choice to play wherever he wants, but for now, his immediate future lies in the very hands of the team he's trying his hardest to exert control over. Apparently, that's not sitting well with Howard, at least not if today's reports buy Bucher are to be believed.
The Magic have been trying to appease Howard. They're rumored to be pursing trades to make the current Orlando team better in an effort to show Howard the franchise's commitment to winning.
At this point the real question is whether or not it's worth it for Orlando to continue on that course.