As we all know by now, Dwight Howard's trade circus resulted in tears coming out of Howard as he expelled his love for the city of Orlando. He signed a waiver on the early termination option of his contract, affirming his presence with the Magic through the 2012-2013 season.
With the drama momentarily subsided, the Magic will focus on their ultimate goal—winning the NBA Finals. Since Howard is arguably the best center in the league, his presence alone is what the Magic will use as the foundation for their championship team.
Orlando is the third-best team in the East this season with their 31-18 record, but they've been inconsistent throughout the season. For instance, a championship team wouldn't be held to just 59 points against a Rose-less Bulls team, would they?
The answer is no, because this is not yet a championship level team. However, experience and growth this season tagged along with a few key changes would leapfrog the Orlando Magic into serious contention for the 2013 NBA Finals. And with Howard now positive he wants to play for Orlando (at least for one more year), the Magic are ready to make that jump.
Ryan Anderson is set to become a restricted free agent this summer, and there have been rumors that the New Jersey Nets will target their former first-round draft choice. Orlando has the right to match offers made by any other team, so if they are willing to pay the price, they are in the drivers seat for keeping Anderson.
With continued progression throughout his four-year career, the Magic should plan on keeping him. Each year, Anderson's numbers have improved from the prior season. This season, all his numbers are at career highs, as he has also been able to avoid the injury bug for the first time in his short career.
In his rookie season as a member of the Nets, Anderson averaged 7.4 points and 4.7 rebounds per game in 19.9 minutes of playing time. Those numbers have soared—this season, he is averaging 15.9 points and 7.7 rebounds per game in his 31.4 minutes each game. His percentages have also steadily improved as he has now established himself as a serious threat from behind the arc—shooting 40 percent.
If Anderson continues to improve his numbers, he and Howard could form a talented and dynamic big man duo which would contend as the best in the Eastern conference. The pairing would be like when Rashard Lewis was a part of the Magic, but Anderson is a more natural power forward, where Lewis played small forward most of his career.
The free-agent class of 2012 has plenty of big names, even though Dwight Howard is no longer one of them. Some good point guards that themselves as unrestricted free agents—Steve Nash, Deron Williams and Raymond Felton.
Coincidentally Orlando's own point guard, Jameer Nelson, has a player's option, but I would expect the Magic are ready to part ways with Nelson in favor of a guard available in free agency. Nelson has always been a favorite of Dwight Howard, but even his best season as a facilitator, he's only produced six assists per game.
Steve Nash is 38 years old, but he would be an incredible pick up for the Magic. There is no question his time is coming to an end, so Nash and the Magic are both focused in on one goal—winning the NBA Finals. Nash leads the league in assists this season with 11.2 per game.
While Nash would be a terrific piece to add, signing Deron Williams would probably seal the deal for Orlando. Williams is sixth in the league in assists and seventh in scoring, as he is averaging 21.9 points and 8.2 assists per game this season. Williams would be an instant fix because like Nash he is an All-Star, but the difference is Williams is in the prime of his career.
Howard's presence should attract free agents to joining him in Orlando on their quest for a championship.
Additionally there are plenty of intriguing restricted free agents the Magic could go after. A three-point shooting team like the Magic should be salivating at the prospect of bringing in Denver's restricted Danilo Gallinari.
This season, Dwight has excelled in every aspect of his game—that is every aspect besides free throws. Howard is shooting a career low 48 percent from the charity stripe. For most of his career, that number usually hovers right below 60 percent, which isn't too pretty either.
I'm not saying that he isn't continually working hard to improve his free throws, but whatever he is doing isn't working. After this season comes to an end, Howard will look at that number and should be ashamed. Knowing what he's put the franchise and the city of Orlando through, he will finally feel real pressure to get that number up.
He knows they are aiming for a championship, and as the focal point, he needs to get more aggressive offensively. Dwight's a nice guy, but maybe with the stress and pressure of winning on his back, he'll start barking at his teammates to get him the ball down low.
If Orlando is going to compete, Howard has to be a game changer on both ends of the court.
Magic GM Otis Smith has not always seen eye-to-eye with Dwight Howard, and now that Howard has some say in who will be the GM, it seems Smith is likely gone. There are already rumors on who might replace Smith as Magic's GM.
Smith has made a number of questionable calls over the past few years in acquiring guys like Gilbert Arenas and Vince Carter, while not really drafting any worthwhile talent.
A new GM could make some moves and trade some pieces to reconstruct this Orlando franchise. With the building blocks of Howard and Anderson, the Magic really need to add a prominent scoring threat and a distributor at the point guard.
This means saying goodbye to Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson. The Magic have been using these two as their primary distributors, but the combination isn't as effective as one solid point guard would be. If Smith, or whoever is the Magic's GM come offseason, can add a point guard and another scorer the team would be much better off.
The last time Orlando was in the finals the team had then-rookie Courtney Lee, a late first-round draft pick who contributed from day one. Since getting Lee, the Magic have not drafted well when they had picks.
While picking late in the first round may sometimes hurt a team, this year's draft is deep enough for the Magic to find an impact player with their first pick. Will Barton comes to mind as he is an efficient scorer, which the Magic could use.
Barton is 6'6" and weighs 175 pounds. If he can gain some weight and beef up, he can become a key contributor next season. In his sophomore year at Memphis, he averaged 18 points and eight rebounds per game.
Barton isn't the only guy the Magic will see on the board when they are deciding on their first-round choice. Vanderbilt's Jeffrey Taylor and Michigan St.'s Draymond Green should also be available—and entice the Magic late in Round 1.