Orlando faces fear of being abandoned by ‘Superman’
TORONTO - Reuters
AP photoDwight Howard is the face of the Orlando Magic franchise but the towering center and scoring leader’s uncertain future in Florida following a trade request is taking its toll on team moral.
The Magic, one season on from a first-round loss in the National Basketball Association (NBA) playoffs, are battling the Miami Heat for the Southeast division crown but Howard’s future and how it may impact his team mates remains high on the agenda.
“All these rumors are flying around and guys are worried about who else is going to be in the (possible) deal,” Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said before a 92-88 road win over the Toronto Raptors.
“It’s not an easy thing but none of us have any control over it. I am not going to say we’ve been perfect or great in our focus all the time but we’ve done a pretty good job.”
Howard, 26, who was drafted first overall by Orlando in 2004 and led the team to three consecutive division titles from 2008, requested a trade ahead of the current lockout-shortened season in December, expressing a desire to explore pastures new.
If the Magic (25-14) do not move the six-times All-Star and three-times defensive player of the year by the March 15 trade deadline, they risk losing him for free in July when he can become a free agent.
For Magic fans who watched Shaquille O’Neal leave Orlando for nothing in 1996 prior to winning three NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers and one with Miami, the possibility of losing Howard under similar circumstances is not sitting well.
“It’s not a distraction on the court,” said Magic guard J.J. Redick. “But it’s on guys’ minds obviously if your name is in a trade rumor. Even if it’s just a little five percent (distraction) it’s going to affect you a little bit.”