Another reversal: Dwight Howard says he will opt-in with Magic

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Orlando called Dwight Howard’s bluff — when he refused Wednesday afternoon to waive his Early Termination option (ETO, the thing that lets him opt out of his contract next summer) the Magic had enough of Howard’s “take a chance on me” game and worked the phones hard to trade him.

Orlando was done.

But Howard wasn’t — he wants to stay in Orlando and had another change of heart.

In an exclusive interview with Jarrod Rudolph of RealGM (who gets the scoop of the year) Howard says he will sign the papers to stay with the Magic.

“Man, listen, you know my heart, my soul and everything I have is in Orlando,” Howard told RealGM. “I just can’t leave it behind.”

Orlando officials will believe it when they have the signed paper in their hands, but other sources have confirmed this is Howard’s plan. He said he would sign the ETO waiver first thing Thursday morning.

From the start Orlando officials believed Howard wanted to stay in the team but it was advisors around him — agent Dan Fegan and others — who were pushing him to be a free agent. (Fegan did not put together Howard’s current contract, so he had incentive to want a new one and get paid).

Howard essentially confirmed that.

“I have gotten some bad advice,” Howard said. “I apologize for this circus I have caused to the fans of our city. They didn’t deserve none of this. I’m sorry from the bottom of my heart. I will do whatever I can to make this right and do what I was put in Orlando to do…

“This has been a very hard time,” Howard said. “For me, my family and all of us. The fans deserve a better hero and I will make that happen. I love and appreciate my fans and this city.”

For the Magic to accept the waiving of the ETO, both Howard and Fegan have to sign off on it. We’ll see how that goes, Fegan has talked Howard out of signing off on it before. But Howard seems certain this time. And there are hints Fegan could be on his way out.

If I were cynical about such matters — and I am — I would note that if Howard were traded to the Nets, a team well out of the playoffs, he would lose a large bonus from Adidas, as reported by ESPN.

Again, we’ll believe it when we see it, but he seems serious.

If he does sign to stay, how will the city of Orlando react? My guess is they will welcome him with open arms like the prodigal son.

However, Howard’s national reputation will take a hit for how poorly he handled the entire situation, giving mixed signals and changing his mind multiple times. He handled the decision making process worse than LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, but his end decision is likely to be one casual fans like better. How that all impacts his popularity is uncharted territory.

Remember that him opting in is a one-year thing — next trade deadline, if the Magic have not improved the roster to Howard’s satisfaction, we cold be right back in the same place. That is the most likely outcome. Howard would be a free agent in the class of 2013.

But for now, Howard appears committed to the Magic for another year.