Magic give Howard until end of Wednesday to sign on for another year, or they trade him

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UPDATE 6:21 pm: Dwight Howard has told teammates he is in for this season and reportedly told both some teammates and the Orlando Magic front office he would “opt-in” and play for them next season.

The Magic are not going to take his word for it — they have given Howard until the end of the day Wednesday to sign paperwork that does away with his early termination option for this summer or they will work hard to trade him before the deadline Thursday at 3 eastern. That’s the report from David Aldridge at NBA.com.

The request (to stay) was a “complete surprise” to the Magic, according to a league source. So was Wednesday’s declaration. But Orlando is not convinced Howard genuinely wants to stay.

The Magic have asked Howard for months to commit just to playing next year. His sudden acquiescence, a day before the trade deadline, is being viewed skeptically by the Magic — hence the demand that both Howard and agent Dan Fegan sign by Wednesday evening.

Dwight Howard, you can’t just say nice things here. You have to sign on the line that is dotted.

And if he does not, if this was all lip service about the Magic but was really about keeping his options open, he will vault past LeBron James and Kobe Bryant as the most disliked NBA player by many fans. You should know also that unlike Kobe (who relishes it) and LeBron (who has grown used to it), Howard really does not want to be seen as a villain.

3:18 pm: Dwight Howard is apparently very serious about staying with the Magic for the rest of this season — and maybe the next one. Or not;.

Howard has informed teammates he is all in for this year but did not mention future years. He reportedly told Magic officials he will opt-in to stay with the team next season, but nobody has seen the paperwork yet. Some reports are conflicting on the details but Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated tweeted this:

As first reported by WFTV in Orlando, sources confirm Dwight Howard told teammates & confidantes he will play final option year of contract

Multiple other sources have now confirmed parts of this. He apparently called a meeting with teammates on the road in San Antonio to inform them he would not leave this season, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo. Howard also took the meeting to talk about what each player needed to do to win the NBA title this season.

Until Howard officially signs paperwork that formally removes the Early Termination Option for next year from his deal he could change his mind and leave after this season. Multiple reports say that paperwork is in his hands but has not been filed. The Magic are listening to trade offers until they get that paperwork.

Howard would take a big risk changing his mind —  if he did that Howard would zoom past LeBron James on the “hated basketball player” scale and Howard wants to be liked by fans more than LeBron ever did.

Even if he signs to opt-in he will be a free agent after next season (the summer of 2013), so consider this just a reprieve for the Magic. They still have to prove they can win with him, but Orlando now has another year to improve the roster.

Following an All-Star Weekend where the city showed him a lot of love — and a dramatic win over the Miami Heat that showed the Magic may well be the third best team in the East — Howard is willing to give them that chance.

In New Jersey, you can start the Deron Williams trade rumors in 5….4….3…2…1….