Dwight Howard's Free Agency Looms over Orlando Magic, but Situation Could Be Worse

ORLANDO FL - JANUARY 24: Head coach Stan Van Gundy of the Orlando Magic talks with Dwight Howard #12 during the game against the Detroit Pistons at Amway Arena on January 24 2011 in Orlando Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and or using this Photograph user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Dwight Howard can leave the Orlando Magic in the summer of 2012 by exercising the Early Termination Option in his contract, which understandably concerns the team and its fans. Unquestionably the league's best center, Howard anchors everything Orlando does on offense and defense. Losing him, in his prime years, would deal a huge blow to the franchise. This is all quite obvious.

Following the Magic's 103-96 loss to the Detroit Pistons, lowlighted by poor defensive showings from his teammates on the wing, Howard expressed his displeasure with the team's performance. From Zach McCann of the Orlando Sentinel:

"Either we get it together or we're just going to be a playoff team that doesn't win a championship," Howard said.

"Guys got to guard on the perimeter, got to do a better job. It just can't be one dribble to the basket. So you got to do a better job."

Yet what he said there doesn't quite inspire panic. Not from me, anyway. It could be worse for Magic fans, if we're quite honest.

Take Deron Williams' situation with the Utah Jazz. Like Howard, Williams, an All-Star point guard, can become a free agent in 2012. But Williams has been far less diplomatic in his comments to the media recently. Here's Williams, the face of Utah's franchise, as quoted by David Aldridge:

"My contract's up in two years. It's a now or never situation. I don't know what I'm going to do after this one."

Williams' remarks illustrate that Orlando doesn't quite have it so bad with Howard. Apart from complaining about his teammates' defense--something he's obviously entitled to do, given the accuracy of his statements and his status as a team co-captain--Howard's at least remained neutral about his pending free agency.

"I want to win a championship," he told Marc Stein in an interview published a little more than a week ago. "And I'm going to do whatever I can to win the championship here in Orlando. This is where I started my career and I would love to finish my career here." Of course, we ought to acknowledge he referred to Los Angeles as "the biggest stage in the world" in the same interview, which prompted some panic among Magic fans who fear he might head to the hated Lakers as a free agent.

Ultimately, it's too early to get into a tizzy about the possibility of Howard leaving the Magic. Orlando still has the balance of this season, these playoffs, next season, and the following postseason remaining before Howard makes a decision, and if he holds true to form, he'll remain noncommittal in his comments about free agency until that time. "Noncommittal" doesn't exactly inspire confidence, but neither does "borderline hostile," which is how one can categorize what Williams has said.

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