Otis Smith talked to the Orlando Sentinel Friday night and gave what could commonly be considered the GM’s equivalent of “famous last words.” Dwight Howard’s a free agent in 2012. He’s made it pretty clear he’s going to enter free agency, while playing the oh-so-tactful play of “I love Orlando, I just want to win a championship” which is code for “I’m simultaneously playing to the fans while giving myself an easy out.” The reason we know this is he’s about the fiftieth guy to take that approach towards their exit out of town. But Smith’s not worried, and won’t be taking calls about a trade for the best center in the league. And he has gotten calls. But why won’t he even listen to offers (assuming he’s being honest)? From the Sentinel:
Smith wouldn’t divulge the teams who have made a run at Howard — or the fellow GMs who tried to hoodwink him during Dwight’s raw, formative years, he said.
Smith expects clubs to come calling before the trade deadline, thinking the Magic would rather receive compensation instead of letting Howard walk as a free agent.
Smith made it clear: He’s willing to take the risk.
“Sure,” he said.
There’s a reason he feels that way.
He reiterates that teams dealing superstars never get fair value, which is true, but there’s something more.
Smith believes — and this is obviously encouraging news for Magic fans — that Howard will stay in Orlando when all is said and done, texted and tweeted.
“That’s my sense,” he said.
I’m not trying to be a jerk here. Orlando fans have already started reacting to talk of Howard’s departure from the media as if we take some exquisite glee in the idea of Howard leaving the fans hanging just as Shaq did over a decade earlier. It’s not that at all. It’s that those Orlando fans need to ask fans in Cleveland, in Toronto, in Utah, in Denver. This is what is happening. And for someone as attention starved as Howard, all the attention being showered on these stars by big name clubs in big name cities is attractive.
As Blogger-in-Chief Kurt Helin pointed out to me, what else is Smith supposed to do here? “Oh, yeah, we’ll totally explore trading him. He’s got us in a tough position and we have no leverage because of his free agency. So please, send over a great offer now that I’ve said that?”
Or, “Well, he’s probably gone. I know that I’ve made about fifteen trades trying to build around him, and spent a huge amount of money for a small-market franchise to try and put a contender around him, and helped him get to the Finals, but in reality, look at the guy’s behavior. Does that look like a guy who’s going to stick around in Orlando?”
Of course not. Smith can’t do either of those things. He has to stick to the script. Which puts confidence and strength in the organization and its fans. But if Smith’s actually not taking calls, he’s not doing his job. He needs to prepare for the future. Denver and Utah have shown that your entire contention doesn’t have to be destroyed by trading your best player. Utah fell off the map at the end of this season, but Utah also has set themselves up well for the future. They have potential and a stronger sense of depth. Denver on the other hand is wrecking ball right now. Those who did not pursue such a trade? Cleveland and Toronto are just sad.
Howard represents the Magic’s best chance at a title, at multiple titles, and Smith knows that. But at some point next season, he’s going to have to get as clear an answer from Howard as he can about his intentions, judge the positioning of teams like Boston, Los Angeles, and New York, and decide whether he’s going to have the pull to retain his star. Howard says he just wants to win a title. But the commercials, the media appearances, his entire approach has been to increase his exposure, including a movie in China. The biggest problem is those bigger markets have proven they have a leg up in the ability to win championships and to get him greater exposure. That’s the reality of the league, and something David Stern needs to take a good long look at while his owners continue to hardball negotiations and refusing to discuss revenue sharing. But that’s a whole other discussion.
Maybe Howard will surprise us all. Maybe he’ll re-sign this summer. Maybe the Magic will shock everyone and make a Finals run that nets them a championship and convinces Howard to stay with the one who brought him. Maybe he’ll see the pain that would be on the faces of Magic fans if he abandoned them and that will be enough to convince him to stay.
I’m not trying to be a jerk. I’m just looking at history.