How the Magic Can Keep Howard
Dwight Howard has recently exercised his player option for the 2012-13 season, guaranteeing his continued play in Orlando, at least for a while. Although Magic fans and ownership must be happy to keep their star player, unless the team improves and Howard feels comfortable, the Howard Circus will continue into next season. Regardless, Howard is worth the trouble and the circus, as he is the consensus top center in the league and is going for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year honor for the fourth straight year. If Orlando wants to avoid the mayhem that haunted the team all year long and get Howard to stay, they need to build around him, the right way. The team has done well this season and will easily make the playoffs, but Howard has repeatedly stated his desire to win a championship and it is doubtful that the team as is can compete for a title. Some changes, small and large could make the difference between keeping and losing Dwight Howard and there are things that the Magic must do to improve.
How to Build Around Howard: Before going over changes and improvement ideas, you must know how a Dwight Howard led team is most productive. On defense, Howard is such a dominant presence, that even with mediocre defensive talent around him, the team will be near the top in defensive statistics, but it is not as easy on offense. Howard plays his best when he has the paint to himself, which is why it is important to surround him with shooters, as the constant double teams will always leave a player open. The Magic have done this quite well and have some of the best shooters in the league on their team. The team must also have a point guard who can spread the ball around, but also be able to drive to the hoop, which will open up room for Howard. If the Magic hit their threes and Howard is playing well, the team is near unbeatable, but if the threes are not falling they are in trouble. This happened in last season’s playoffs, as they were thoroughly dominated by a lesser Atlanta Hawks team. This makes the team way too one dimensional, which is why the team desperately needs a star on the perimeter, a player who can create his own shot and carry the load when the shooters are off and Howard is struggling. This would add a completely new dimension to the team and could make them a contender. They have tried this over the years, first with a washed up Vince Carter, which was an obvious failure and recently with a past his prime, Jason Richardson, who while still productive, is not the star they need. With the most dominant big man in the league, a second option on the perimeter and a stable of shooters surrounding them, the Magic would be unstoppable.
Fix the Cap: The Magic have had a great year, but if they want to have any chance to improve the roster in the future and in doing so keep Howard for good, the salary cap mess in Orlando must be fixed. Over the last two years the Magic have traded for Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis and Jason Richardson, the first three moves being massive mistakes. The Richardson trade was fine as he is still a very productive player, but between Turkoglu and Arenas they inherited over 120 million dollars of overpaid and past their prime, talent. In regards to Davis, they traded Brandon Bass to the Celtics in a sign and trade move. The problem is that Bass is a much better player and is playing on a much smaller contract. Apart from the trades, they have resigned Jason Richardson to a 4 year, 25 million dollar contract, signed the previously mentioned Glen Davis to a 4 year, 26 million dollar contract, signed Chris Duhon to a 4 year, 15 million dollar contract and resigned JJ Redick for 3 years and 19 million dollars. The team has since amnestied Arenas, which ended up costing the team their amnesty clause, which would have helped them remedy their current ailments and of course the near 60 million still left on his contract. Richardson, Redick and Davis are all solid players, but they overpaid for all three. The Duhon signing was ludicrous and has proved disastrous, as he is not worth even half of that money. In order to build a contender around Howard, they ended up destroying their current and future cap space, but because of the price tags given, the Magic must role with what they have, as these players will be extremely difficult to trade. Because of these mistakes, someone must take the blame and it should be Otis Smith, their GM.
Fire Otis Smith: It is understandable that Smith tried to do what he could in order to improve the team, however there was nothing wrong with the team that made it to the 2009 finals. Since then he has made countless “bold” moves to try and turn the team into champions, however almost every single one of these moves has backfired. Whether or not Smith gets fired, he or their next GM must learn self-control. Since 2008 Otis Smith has been easily the worst GM in the NBA and the team can do better and will need to do better if they hope to keep Howard.
Let Stan Van Gundy Go: A recent development has shown the instability in the locker room between Howard and coach Stan Van Gundy. Van Gundy has recently let it be known that he has heard that Howard has asked for the coach to be fired. Howard has since denied the rumors, but one has to take the side of Van Gundy, as he has no reason to lie, as his claim has all but ended his relationship with Dwight and therefore the team. If a team has to choose between a coach and star player, the player will win 10 out of 10 times and with no disrespect to Van Gundy, who is an excellent coach, the team must find a new head coach.
Resign Ryan Anderson: The next major step is the logical resigning of the team’s second best player, Ryan Anderson. He is a perfect frontcourt player to match with Howard, as he is one of the best shooters in the NBA and a more than capable rebounder. He is a restricted free agent, so the team can match any offer, however the team would be wise to sign him before a team throws a massive offer sheet his way. He is vital to the team’s successes, however they must be smart and offer him a fair contract and cannot get carried away as usual. A contract in the five-year and 45-55 million range is his market price and Anderson would be well worth the money. Keeping Anderson would be a positive step in the right direction, but if they want Howard to stay, they must add more.
Round Out The Roster: Along with Dwight Howard and the previously detailed Ryan Anderson, the rest of the roster is not too impressive. There are the overpriced veterans, a lack of young talent and quite a few D-League caliber players. The only real young talent of note is Earl Clark, who has recently come alive and has shown signs of being an elite defensive player. The true wildcard on the Magic is former All-Star point guard Jameer Nelson, who after a nightmarish first half of the year has really come on as of late. In fact, Nelson is playing his best basketball in at least two years. If he keeps this up, he can once again be the point guard the team so desperately needs to open up space for Howard. The only problem is that Nelson has the option to opt out of his contract at the end of the current season. If he does decline his option, a new starter would need to be found, as Chris Duhon cannot be a starter for a team that wants to win a title. The trio of Howard, Anderson and Nelson heading into 2012-13 is a good start, but they need one more good piece.
Trade Up in the Draft: The Magic are in desperate need for the aforementioned perimeter player that can take the team to the next level. This is of course, no easy task and they do not have the cap space to sign a major free agent, or have the pieces for a major trade, unless Howard is involved. This means that the last possible chance is trading up in the draft and hoping that a major prospect falls. There are quite a few perimeter players in the upcoming draft with star potential and one or two are bound to fall out of the top ten. The prime targets are Harrison Barnes and Jeremy Lamb, both top five prospects, who have both disappointed in their sophomore seasons. Both players have the capabilities to become the missing peace for the Magic, Barnes with his scoring and Lamb with his all-around offensive talents. The team has not had an elite talent on the roster outside of Howard in years and if the team were able land one, it would show Howard that they are willing to do what it takes to build a champion and if he just gives them the time, they can win a title.
Make Peace: It is impossible to predict the amount of bad blood that is present within the organization, but based on reports to come out of Orlando, there are probably severe problems with the team on all levels. The team cannot be happy with Howard’s public trade requests and for putting them through this circus. This off season, Howard and the whole organization needs to have a long talk, get out their frustrations and put it past them or else the team cannot move forward and become contenders. Also, if the team is to keep Stan Van Gundy, a lot of work between Howard and Van Gundy must occur to fix their relationship. Without peace throughout the organization Howard will most likely pack up and leave, which cannot happen.
Give Dwight Power, But Not Too Much: In order to appease Howard and make him feel truly wanted, they should give him a say in all changes made by the team, when it comes to improving the talent and management. He should in no way have the final say, but knowing that his input matters, may convince him that he can have a future in Orlando. This leads to just one final point.
Win: The last step in keeping Howard is to fulfill his one wish, win. If the team can prove that they have what it takes to become a winner, then Howard will stay and they will keep their franchise player for many years to come. If not, he will leave and the franchise will be in ruins, it is this simple. What the team does over the summer could mean the difference between contention and starting over.