Seems like the people here are divided between believing Dwight Howard is open to staying in Orlando, and believing his mind is well made up, that he is essentially gone already. I fall into the latter category. There is too much smoke (or, in my opinion, fire) to suggest he's quit on Orlando.
But for those who disagree, I ask: are you confident enough to risk letting him walk away for nothing, just like Shaq did fifteen years ago? Because if the Magic don't trade Howard before the trade deadline, the risk of this happening is overwhelming.
Here are some things to consider.
1) Howard has no incentive to sign an extension. Even if he had every intention of staying in Orlando, he stands to make considerably more money by signing a new contract after the season. Thus, there would be no guarantee, even if he were adamant in the press and with the Magic brass about returning. The Magic would still assume considerable risk.
2) Even if you believe Howard does mean it when he says he wants to stay in Orlando, it doesn't change the fact that his behavior and rhetoric has been all over the place. If Howard isn't traded right away, and the Magic start winning games, perhaps a lot of games, it will be easy for Magic fans (myself included) to get swept up in the momentum. I wouldn't rule out Howard getting swept up in it too. Orlando may not be favored to win the East, but by the trade deadline it is entirely possible that we will be #1 in the conference.
So, best case scenario by the trade deadline, Howard wouldn't have signed an extension and the Magic could be on fire going into the post season.
Here's the thing.
What happens if we don't win a Championship? It's extremely unlikely with this team, as assembled. And don't kid yourselves, bringing in Andre Iguodala or Gerald Wallace or Chauncey Billups does not immediately propel us into contender status.
So then, how far do we have to go to convince Howard? Lose the Finals in seven games? What about six? What if we lose the Conference Finals in seven hard fought games? Or what if we lose in six to a team that's clearly superior, like we did to the Celtics in 2010?
Or what if we lose inexplicably in the first or second round to a clearly inferior team, all over again?
There are very few scenarios, arguably only one, in which all that regular season momentum isn't gone in the blink of an eye.
And then Howard can simply walk, just like Shaq.
Are you willing to take this risk? Because I seriously doubt Alex Martins is. Losing two Hall of Fame centers is tragic, but losing both of them for nothing is borderline irredeemable. And if the Magic don't trade Howard before the deadline, that's the barrel they'll be staring down.
Howard's story seems to change daily. So it's really not a question of whether or not Howard "could" be convinced to stay, or "how" he could be convinced. But when he's convinced. And for how long. Because if the Magic choose not to trade him, and he isn't convinced when the season comes to a close, he'll be gone.
To be clear: I'm not saying the Magic should rush into a trade. Dwight Howard playing the 2012 All Star Game wearing another team's uniform would be catastrophic for Orlando's fan base.
But I am saying fans should try to stay realistic about Howard's future in Orlando, especially if the Magic jump out to a fast start in the regular season.