With the trade deadline rapidly approaching, talks of the Magic dealing Dwight Howard have all but died down and the general consensus is that Superman will spend the remainder of the season in Orlando. Howard made his intentions of leaving clear a long time ago, but it looks like the Magic are going to take their chances on trying to land a big piece to lure him into staying around a little longer. They take this risk with the knowledge that if they fail, Dwight is free to leave after the season is over and they will receive nothing in return for his departure. Their faith that he will stay either out of loyalty to the city or because they believe they can attract big names is inspiring, but even with Howard, the Magic have seemed to be extremely unpredictable this season.
What’s funny about all of this is that in actuality, the Magic are currently third in the Eastern Conference standings at 25-15. Dwight Howard’s been a monster in the paint, putting up MVP-numbers of 20.7 points, 15 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1.5 steals per game, leading his team in all four of these categories. Even the NBA All-Star game, which brings in a considerable amount of attention and general good feelings, was in Orlando this year. So why does Superman need to leave? And why do the Magic look so dysfunctional despite their status in the East?
First of all, the current state of the East should be addressed. Atlanta, Indiana and Philadelphia are behind right now, but only because they have played less games. Although the Pacers and Sixers are currently suffering losing streaks, they have shown for the majority of the season that they can win and you can be guaranteed they’ll start climbing back up the standings soon. These three teams will soon deflate the Magic’s seemingly impressive standing in the East, which brings up another problem: what’s wrong with the Orlando Magic.
The Magic have a wealth of problems to deal with. Jameer Nelson’s lackluster season is a big one. Orlando’s lack of a bench beyond JJ Reddick is another. A significant drop in Glen Davis’ production from last year with the Celtics, which is a huge contributor to the team’s lack of a bench, represents another unspoken problem. Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu’s inconsistent 3-point shooting and all-around offensive presence compounds the Magic’s troubles even further (J-Rich’s age and injuries certainly don’t help). But the biggest problem the Magic face might come as a surprise. Because of the lack of a great supporting cast around Dwight Howard, the city of Orlando is starting to realize that the biggest reason for the Magic’s problems is Superman himself.
On paper, that statement doesn’t make much sense. Howard is the most coveted big man in the league for a reason. He’s putting up MVP-numbers this season and is the biggest factor in the Orlando Magic winning games. On a team where Ryan Anderson is the only other bright spot, the majority of the Magic’s success should be attributed to Dwight Howard. But although this is all true, Superman is still the reason for Orlando’s losses and problems. We can point to Nelson and J-Rich not contributing enough, but it must be pretty difficult to focus on your job when your star player and team rock is talking about where he could see himself playing every week. Howard opening his mouth about playing in New Jersey or Chicago or L.A. or Golden State has damaged this team’s chemistry. Yes, the Magic are winning ballgames. Yes, Dwight Howard has stated over and over again that until that trading day comes, he’s giving everything he’s got to the city of Orlando. And yes, Howard has elevated his play to prove that he means what he says. But can anyone really be fooled into thinking that Superman and the rest of his teammates are of sound mind or have any chance at building team chemistry with all this off-court turmoil?
The smartest thing would have been to accept that it’s time to rebuild, find a quality trade for Howard (a decent big man and a dynamic guard/forward would have been ideal) and move on. There were talks of dealing Howard to the Lakers, but the Magic would have been slightly downgrading at the center position, and even if they got both Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, they would still be hurting for better guards/forwards. And any chances of Dwight joining Deron Williams in New Jersey faded as the already-downgrade prospect Brook Lopez continues to struggle with injury problems.
So instead, the Magic switched to trying to keep Howard interested in staying in Orlando by looking at Monta Ellis in Golden State. But the Warriors aren’t interested in what the Magic have to offer (what team should be?), so the only way Ellis is coming to Orlando is if Superman himself ships off for Golden State. Now the Magic are in real trouble, because without the ability to attract any big names, along with several bad losses on the season (a 31-point loss to the Celtics, a 26-point loss to the Hornets and Tuesday’s 16-point loss to the five-win Charlotte Bobcats), Dwight Howard most likely feels like it’s time to move on. The only thing Orlando has going for it in hoping that Dwight Howard resigns with the Magic is that their pure loyalty and love for him persuades him to stick around.
Superman has had an immediate and substantial impact on his team since he first donned an Orlando Magic uniform. The Magic went to the Finals and have been competitive in the Eastern Conference playoffs for the past few years, but have come up just short every time. And every time Dwight Howard takes the court and leads the Magic to a win, I’m reminded of the climactic scene of Superman Returns, where Superman carries a giant growing mass of land and kryptonite away from the citizens of Metropolis, flying higher and higher into the sky where he launches it into space before plummeting to the ground as the kyptonite finally takes its toll. Dwight Howard’s superhuman efforts carry this team, but the kryptonite that is the Orlando Magic has taken its toll and it might not be long before Superman falls right into another city.