Howard waives opt-out clause to stay with Magic
ORLANDO - Magic center Dwight Howard signed a contract extension in 2007 hoping he would be in Orlando as long as the city's famous mouse. For at least another season that remains a possibility. Howard signed papers Thursday agreeing to waive the early termination option in his contract, guaranteeing he will be with the Magic at the beginning of the 2012-13 season. His decision ends the season-long drama of whether he would be dealt prior to the trade deadline and before the Magic risked losing him in free agency. The Magic center had the option of ending his five-year deal in July and entering the open market."I'm glad this is finally over," Howard said at a press conference to announce the new pact. "…It's not as easy as some people think. It's been very hard. We're talking a career-changing event. Most people don't see that. "I'm very loyal and I've always put loyalty above anything." Howard requested a trade in the preseason and maintained that stance until changing his mind this week and expressing a desire to remain in Orlando this season. The move provides some temporary stability in what has been a tension-filled regular season for the Magic. Howard had requested to be traded and gave the Magic a list of three teams — the New Jersey Nets, Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks — that he wanted his agent to be allowed to talk to. At the time Howard expressed frustration with Magic management and what he felt was an unwillingness to include him in personnel decisions or to improve the roster around him. He went as far as to praise the relationship he felt All-Star Dirk Nowitzki has with Mavericks' owner Mark Cuban. Following those December revelations a daily drama began trailing the Magic and upset a fan base that lived through Shaquille O'Neal leaving town to join the Lakers in 1996. The soap opera included a very awkward All-Star weekend in Orlando last month. Talk centered on Howard and his plans for the summer of 2012. During the weekend, the 26-year-old center repeatedly stated his affinity for the only city he has played for during his eight NBA seasons. He maintained that position until a surprise statement following the Magic's home victory over Miami Tuesday in which he pulled back his trade request, saying he wanted to stay in Orlando this season. Howard said Thursday's decision was in part, to give the Magic a chance to win a NBA title. He said "he's all in" and ready to give the organization a full season to improve the roster going forward. "Now we can get back to playing basketball and having some peace and trying to win a championship," said Howard, who said he went back and forth with his decision until after the Magic's loss to San Antonio Wednesday night. "I feel like we have a chance to win want and I didn't feel like either one of us (he or the organization) should give that up." Howard said he didn't think he'd had a full night's sleep since making his original trade demand. He offered an apology to Magic fans for the back-and-forth ordeal, but not for taking his due diligence to make it. "There's no decision about your life that you're gonna make in one day or one hour," he said. Magic general manager Otis Smith said the team was fully ready to trade their six-time All-Star before Thursday's deadline before he signed the waiver. He said the list of potential suitors included about six teams. "It was real," Smith said of the possibility of dealing Howard. "We weren't rolling the dice." Provisions in the league's new collective bargaining agreement give the Magic the ability to offer Howard $30 million more than any other team if he becomes a free agent. Orlando can offer him a five-year contract extension with 7.5 percent annual raises, while other teams are capped at offering a four-year pact with only 4.5 percent raises. The Magic are 28-16 this season and seven games behind first-place Chicago. Howard is averaging 21.2 points and a career-best 15.2 rebounds. He passed Nick Anderson earlier this season as the Magic's all-time leader in points scored. Magic CEO Alex Martins, who has been in that role only since the preseason, said that part of the process from his standpoint was building a new relationship with Howard that he didn't have before. Now one of the Magic executives that will negotiate with Howard between now and the end of next season about him potentially signing a long-term deal, he said his focus will be on making Orlando what Howard needs it to be. He said having seen O'Neal walk away in 1996 is on his mind but he, like Smith, were going to put the Magic first no matter what. "History plays a role in everything … and we're gonna were not going to suffer the same thing we did in the mid-90s," he said. "But if Dwight made a different decision, we were prepared. "Loyalty is hard to find; he's gotta be commended for the loyalty he's showing here." Howard said his isn't concerned with the end of the next season. "When the time comes we'll deal with it then," Howard said. "I have to put my trust in Alex and Otis … I want to win a championship and that's the only thing that matters."