The annual drama which is the often turbulent and always confusing Orlando Magic basketball season has mercifully come to a close.
That doesn't mean, however, that the drama between the team and star center Dwight Howard is anywhere near drawing to a close.
According to an article from Bright House Sports Network, we may, in fact, see the culmination of this soap opera in the coming months.
Apparently, team CEO Alex Martins wants to see an end to this dog-and-pony show sooner rather than later.
"If he decides not to sign an extension, then we're going to make decisions necessary so we don't go through a season like we went through this year," Martins said.
When prodded if he meant he would trade Howard if he didn't sign a long-term deal, Martins added, "We'll cross that bridge when we get there but our number one goal is to get him to sign an extension this summer."
So, will he sign? The Case for Returning
Let's take a look at the pros and cons of signing an extension with Orlando.
First off, Orlando can pay him more money. It can go over its own salary cap to re-sign its own players and seem desperate enough to pay him whatever he wants to keep him in Orlando.
Additionally, Florida is one of nine states without a state income tax, meaning that no other team (outside of those in Texas) can even offer him that additional benefit.
So the money would be the first reason to stay around.
Secondly, the team seems comfortable giving him at least some say on roster issues, meaning that he would have a voice in some of the personnel decisions on the team.
No other team is likely to match that offer either.
Thirdly, Orlando is comfortable to Howard. It is the only basketball home he has known since he was a teenager, and there is certainly something to be said for familiarity.
There is no real way to quantify that, so let's not spend too much time focusing on it.
The Case for Leaving
Where to begin.
First, the Magic have a pretty crummy roster. They do not have an elite player at any position other than center, and they do not have any cap room or even anything resembling wiggle room.
They are committed to Hedo Turkoglu for $23 million over the next two years, upwards of $20 million over the next three to Glen Davis and upwards of $30 million to the trio of Jason Richardson, Quentin Richardson and Chris Duhon through at least the next two years.
They really can't count on the draft to supply an impact player, and a mid-level contract really won't help quantitatively either.
They don't have a lot of young talent, and their second-best player, Jameer Nelson, is only signed through next season.
They also have a general manager that is not signed past this summer, and a coach that he has had a very rocky relationship with (although the coach also is not signed for the upcoming season).
Trying to get Howard to re-sign will most assuredly have to be centered around money, and the confidence that Howard might have in the front office to swing a major deal.
Their track record on this front is anything but gleaming.
So basically, Howard has a choice to make.
Either he can choose to remain in Orlando for a load of cash without a shot at a title, or he can choose to go elsewhere for a shot at winning.
What should Orlando Do?
Since it appears less than likely that Orlando has a shot at re-signing Howard, they should immediately start to field offers for the star big man.
The one glaring question centers on Howard's health.
Most people feel that Howard will certainly not be effected by his back surgery. Any trades will most likely have to wait until Howard is healthy enough for a medical evaluation.
Howard began a walking program for the first phase of his rehabilitation from back surgery immediately following the procedure, and there have been no indications that he has had any setbacks as he continues his rehab from Los Angeles.
That being said, one of the best tools at a general manager's disposal for making trades is the NBA draft, but given that that is in June, it seems unlikely that Howard would be healthy enough for evaluation by then.
Therefore, in order to use the draft as a tool, another team would have to be supremely confident that Howard will indeed be the same player he was before the injury.
So for argument's sake, let's take a look at the teams that might be in the market for Howard.
This truly has been the rumor that won't die.
For nearly two years, there has been chatter that the Lakers were interested in dealing center Andrew Bynum for Howard.
Given how poorly Bynum has played in the playoffs and the constant questions about his maturity and dedication, it appears that his trade value may be taking a hit.
That being said, he is still extremely young, talented and could benefit from a change in scenery.
The Magic probably wouldn't trade Howard for Bynum straight up and would ask for a package including someone else, perhaps point guard Darius Morris and forward Jordan Hill.
If the Lakers threw in both of those youngsters, the Magic should certainly consider it, especially if they feel that Howard won't re-sign.
The Bulls need to figure themselves out.
But there are definitely holes on this team.
Up front, Joakim Noah is a bruiser, but Carlos Boozer has been a huge disappointment, and Taj Gibson can be up and down.
They certainly would love to bring in Howard to the mix.
But who exactly would they offer up for him?
Noah would have to be part of the mix, but he really isn't a sexy player for Orlando to consider. The rest of the Bulls roster is mainly comprised of role players and savvy vets that probably won't bring out the Orlando fans.
Remember, the Magic are losing their one and only attendance draw, so whoever they bring back will have to put butts in the seats.
If the Bulls want to be a player, they will have to hope that the Lakers balk at dealing Bynum and they are able to find a third team to help them parlay Howard.
The Grizzlies are an intriguing team to consider.
They have a lot of young talent, they have a good group of players to build around and they could certainly use the likes of Howard.
But would Howard consent to re-sign there? If Orlando is suddenly too small for Howard, how is Memphis going to get in the mix?
This is another intriguing option.
If the Thunder fail to win a ring or even come close, would they consider breaking up their young squad for a chance at Howard?
Kevin Durant is the face of the franchise and isn't going anywhere.
But could they consider dealing Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka for Howard?
It certainly would be the best deal available for Orlando, but let's look at it from Oklahoma City's standpoint.
Westbrook is dynamic, but so too is James Harden, and Harden could certainly take a lot of the sting out of this move for the Thunder.
Ibaka is a very good defender and is one of the most athletic big men in the league, but Howard is the best center on the planet and does everything that Ibaka does but better.
A three-man grouping of Durant, Harden and Howard would certainly catapult the Thunder into title contention, but would the team be willing to give up on Westbrook?
Just about every team on the planet would want Howard, and most would be willing to deal nearly their entire roster for a shot at him.
Utah has a lot of young, big talent, but Howard probably wouldn't re-sign there.
Detroit has a great big man and a lottery pick to offer, but Howard definitely wouldn't remain in a Pistons uniform.
Brooklyn offers a chance at taking New York, but it doesn't have enough talent to make the deal intriguing for Orlando.
Additionally, Miami, New York and a whole host of other teams would love to bring in Howard, but similarly, they don't have the required players available to make it worth Orlando's while.
Orlando must deal Howard. That is no longer up for debate. His history of flip-flopping and making outlandish demands and then backing off from them hints at an immature, petulant talent that has no clue what he wants.
It needs to rid itself of this soap opera and turn the page in order to help salvage their franchise.
It can't afford to let him walk like it did with Shaquille O'Neal in the 1990's, and it can't continue to let him hold its franchise captive.
It needs to make a deal, and make it quickly.
The best bet is still the Lakers, but if I were the Magic, I would keep close tabs on Oklahoma City.
If the Thunder disappoint this year, they may be in the market for an elite center, and a package of Westbrook and Ibaka would certainly help the Magic return to the playoffs.