Howard, who is in the middle of wide-ranging trade speculation, said he has talked with Magic owner Rich DeVos and other front-office executives about his desire to stay for the past two weeks. But Howard would not commit to signing a long-term contract extension and could opt out of his deal to enter free agency in the summer.
“We’ve been talking, like I said, for a while,” Howard said after leading the Magic to a 104-98 overtime home victory against the Miami Heat. “I told them I want to finish this season out and give our team, give our fans some hope for the future. But I feel they have to roll the dice. It might be tough, but I feel we’ve got a great opportunity. But they’ve got to roll it.”
It’s a gamble the Magic might not be willing to take, considering the franchise lost Shaquille O’Neal in free agency in 1996 without getting any compensation in return. Orlando has re-engaged several teams in serious trade talks in recent days, with the New Jersey Nets and the Los Angeles Lakers remaining among the top potential partners in a deal.
Before Tuesday’s game, DeVos told reporters assembled in the Magic’s locker room that he remained hopeful that the team would keep Howard and convince him to stay in Orlando long term. Even amid the widespread trade speculation that overshadowed Tuesday’s game, Magic president of basketball operations Otis Smith told reporters that no deals for Howard were imminent.
There was a feeling throughout the Amway Center that Tuesday’s game could have been Howard’s last home game in a Magic uniform, and he responded with one of the most productive games of his career. Howard registered 24 points, 25 rebounds, three steals and two blocks in 47 minutes.
After spending the better part of the day detailing the impact Howard’s situation has had on the team, Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy wanted no part of the trade talk after the victory.
“Tonight, we’re actually going to give a (expletive) about the game,” Van Gundy said. “It was a battle. I was proud of our guys.”
Despite the distractions, the Magic have won three consecutive games against the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers and Heat — three of the top five teams in the East. Howard said Orlando’s recent run shows the potential the team has to be a major factor in the conference playoff race.
Howard did travel with the team late Tuesday night for Wednesday’s game at San Antonio. The Magic return home Friday to play the Nets, one of three teams Howard previously said he’d be willing to play for if traded.
“I think we’re going to hit our peak at the right time and we’re going to make a good run,” said Howard, who would not address whether he’s now considering a long-term stay. “That doesn’t matter. This moment is what matters. Like I said, we have a great opportunity. We got a good shot.”