In 2012, Dwight Howard will be a free agent. And if the Orlando Magic want to retain their star, success in this year’s postseason is essential. In Orlando, every year that passes without a championship moves the franchise a step closer to losing the NBA’s best center.
For the Magic, the results of this postseason could dictate the direction of the franchise for years to come. For the NBA itself, the stakes are even greater.
In the playoffs this year, Howard has been a beast. He hasn’t just been a double-double machine; he has been a 30 and 18 machine. The level at which he has totally, completely dominated the Hawks has been astounding to watch.
Howard’s dominance this postseason has highlighted his true greatness. The difference between Howard and fellow All-Stars Pau Gasol and Al Horford is like night and day.
Although Gasol and Horford are amongst the NBA’s best right now, their greatness is limited to the contemporary.
Howard has the tools to be great in a larger sense. He could be one of the best of all time.
And great centers are, when properly placed, one of the NBA’s biggest assets. Having Shaquille O’Neal playing alongside Penny Hardaway is nice. It is exciting and vibrant; it brings a sense of youth and energy to the league.
But having Shaquille O’Neal in Los Angeles…that’s when the big bucks start rolling in. While Orlando-era Shaq was a championship contender, L.A.-era Shaq created a dynasty.
For the NBA, contenders may make money, but dynasties print the stuff.
It seems that Dwight Howard’s NBA destiny is one laden with championship rings. As a smaller market, Orlando’s window to prove that it can surround Howard with championship-level talent is similarly small. And it is closing fast.
For Magic fans, it must be disconcerting that although Howard is one of the NBA’s best players, he also stands among the league leaders in unrealized potential—he has been to the Finals only once, and has zero rings to show for it.
Howard himself is surely aware of this. While he has said and done all the right things, indicating all the way that Orlando will be his number one choice once he becomes a free agent, part of him must know that if Orlando cannot help him achieve the immortality of his full potential, there are other teams that can.
Los Angeles immediately jumps to mind, based on the fact that they have been down this road before—first with Kareem and then, as Magic fans certainly remember, with Shaq.
The Lakers are old pros at taking players with stellar potential, tapping into that potential, and producing true transcendence.
The Spurs, home of arguably the NBA’s best coach and front office, have shown what they can do with a franchise center. Their ability to bargain-hunt for elite talent is unmatched in sports today.
With Tim Duncan’s career winding down, luring Howard to San Antonio would provide the franchise with a nice segue into the next decade.
For the Spurs, Howard could fill the role that Duncan himself once filled for David Robinson.
The Boston Celtics will also be looking for a new identity come 2012. With the inevitable declines of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, the addition of Howard would breathe new life into the organization and establish them as contenders once again.
The same can be said of the New York Knicks. Although it has been rumored that NYK will go after a big-name point guard in 2012, spending money on a franchise center is never a bad idea. A trio of Carmelo, Amare and Howard would be formidable indeed.
In New Jersey, the Nets have an owner with deep pockets who is looking to make a splash before he relocates the team to Brooklyn. Acquiring Howard would be the NBA version of a cannonball—the biggest splash possible.
Cavaliers fans in Cleveland know how important it is that a young franchise player believe his small-market team provides him with a great chance to win. Because if the current team can’t do it, there are always larger-market teams waiting in the wings that assuredly can.
Dwight Howard will have no shortage of suitors in 2012 b ut the Orlando Magic have a leg up on their soon-to-be competition. They have this season and the next to prove that they are contenders. Orlando’s opportunity to prove their worth to Howard is happening right now.
This is their advantage.
In the summer of 2012, all teams will be equal in Howard’s eyes, and no amount of presentations, pitches or promises made by the Magic will be able to make up for years of disappointment.
Conversely, success in 2011 will give the Magic an immediate advantage that cannot be matched by other suitors in 2012.
In order to keep Howard, the Magic need to win—and they need to win now. If they do not, NBA history tells us that Howard will move on to greener pastures to complete his destiny.
For a franchise that has already seen one of the all-time great big men leave for a bigger market, this is a scenario that must be avoided if NBA relevance is to be maintained.
Although it is unlikely that the Magic will end the 2011 season as NBA champions, the team’s performance could determine the fate of the franchise for years to come.
In other words, J.J. Redick, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu need to step up their games. Quickly. Otherwise Orlando runs the risk of repeating the history that has been so cruel to them in the past.