Dwight Howard said he’s staying with the Orlando Magic on the National Basketball Association’s trade-deadline day, the league’s most dominant center passing up the chance to be a free agent after this season.
Howard signed a waiver of the early termination option in his contract that would have allowed him to end the deal after this season, Magic President Alex Martins said today in a press conference in Orlando, Florida.
The six-time All-Star center will remain under contract with the Magic through next season, when he is set to make $19.5 million.
“I’ve always believed that loyalty is before anything,” Howard, 26, said at the press conference. “I want the city to know that I love them, I love this team. I want them to believe in us and believe in what we can accomplish.”
Howard had asked to be traded before changing his mind in recent days. His possible destinations in a deal had included the New Jersey Nets.
Martins said he hasn’t thought about the team’s plan for next year, when it could find itself in a similar situation with Howard facing possible free-agency. Howard also declined to address his intentions beyond next season.
Today’s move ends a 24-hour period in which ESPN and other media outlets reported that Howard planned to stay, intended to leave, and finally decided to stay again. Howard told Magic management and his teammates yesterday that he wouldn’t out of his contract, thus being eligible to test free agency, then changed his mind during a conference call before the team’s game against the San Antonio Spurs, ESPN reported.
The trade deadline is 3 p.m. New York time today. The waived clause prevents Howard from becoming a free agent at the end of this season and leaving Orlando without the Magic receiving compensation, as All-Star center Shaquille O’Neal did in 1996.
Howard said that he had gone back and forth on what he called a “career-changing” decision. He thanked his teammates and the Magic fans for their support and said he had made his decision about an hour before the press conference.
“I’ve gotten everything I wanted right here in Orlando,” he said. “I hope to get back to just playing basketball, having some peace and going for a championship.”
Howard is in his eighth season with Orlando, which took the 6-foot-11 center with the No. 1 pick in the 2004 draft. He scored 12 points and had 10 rebounds, three steals and four blocks in his NBA debut, a 93-92 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Nov. 3, 2004.
An All-Star in each of the past six seasons, Howard was named the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2009, 2010 and 2011. In 611 NBA games he has averaged 18.4 points, 13 rebounds and 2.2 blocks.
He scored 22 points and had 12 rebounds last night in a loss to the Spurs, leaving Orlando 3 1/2 games behind the Miami Heat in the Southeast Division. Miami lost 106-102 last night to the Chicago Bulls in a matchup of the two leading teams in the Eastern Conference.
In his most recent home game, Howard had 24 points and 25 rebounds as the Magic beat the Heat 104-98 in overtime. After the game he told reporters that he wanted to finish the season with the Magic.
“I’ve been telling them for the past two or three weeks now that I’m going to stay and finish the season,” Howard said.
The Magic reached the playoffs in each of the past five seasons, ending a three-year postseason drought that began with the 2003-04 campaign. The team’s best finish was a 4-1 loss in the NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009.
Martins said that Howard gave the team its best chance to get back to the NBA Finals.
“Over the course of the past eight years Dwight has grown with this organization and this organization has grown with Dwight,” he said. “We are in a position today, better than ever before, to win an NBA championship.”