David Stern defends Dwight Howard’s right to leave Orlando

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NBA commissioner David Stern held his annual All-Star weekend press conference from the Amway Center in Orlando on Saturday, and not surprisingly, one of the first questions that came up was about Dwight Howard.

Howard, as you may have heard, is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, and he’s gone back and forth on whether or not he wants to stay. Most signs seem to indicate he is, at minimum, open to being courted by other teams around the league when the time comes.

So the question was, should teams in the Magic’s situation — facing the possibility of Howard leaving without getting anywhere near equal value in return — be entitled to any compensation from the league for losing its marquee star?

“Why should we,” Stern playfully jabbed, as he’s known to do in these group interview situations. He then gave a more serious response.

“Well, you have a choice,” he said. “We have a system that has a draft that basically tells a player where he’s going to play in this league when he’s drafted, and a further system that has a huge advantage to the team that has him, so that our players could play for seven years in the team they didn’t choose. And we think that’s a system but not a prison. And the idea for the team is to manage to a certain place, make it as easy as possible to retain the player, or have the ability to pay him considerably more, like $30 million more than any other team can pay him, or trade him and turn that into value.”

This is Stern merely affirming what is his, and therefore league’s position on free agency that he’s repeated when similar situations (see: Anthony, Carmelo) have arisen in recent years.

The league is fine with the system that’s in place for teams to attract new free agents, or retain their own. The $30 million figure he mentioned is the amount under the current collective bargaining agreement that the Magic can pay Howard in a new deal above and beyond anything he could receive from a team he chose to flee for in free agency.

And even if a big-time superstar does choose to leave, as LeBron James did when he bolted Cleveland for Miami, the system can still work — through a team’s ability to rebuild by acquiring new young talent through the draft.

“It’s beautiful,” Stern said of Cleveland’s burgeoning resurgence, courtesy of the stellar play of rookie (and number one overall draft pick Kyrie Irving.  “It’s part of the rite of renewal. It’s what happens. You make decisions. You know, Carmelo was traded by Denver; Deron Williams was traded by Utah; the Cavs went a different way. And for that they got two first‑round draft picks and they’ve got themselves a competitive young team that’s looking better … And that’s the ecosystem that is the NBA.”

To put it bluntly, Stern doesn’t feel sorry for the Orlando Magic. Howard has put in his time with that organization, so if his choice is to go play somewhere else after this season, then the league supports that decision — just as it has with many other greats who have done so in the past.

“I’m old enough to remember Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul‑Jabbar and assorted others who desired to go someplace else,” Stern said. “But I’m sure Dwight will make a good and wise decision — for him.”