Magic sinking because of Howard

The Orlando Magic is the NBA’s biggest loser. The team has quit, plain and simple. Not only have they lost six of their past nine games, but they also have problems that go deeper than their record. They have no explanation for putting up only 56 points in one game, and then blowing a 27-point lead five days later. While Magic coach Stan Van Gundy has publicly taken the blame, it doesn’t take much to see that team leader Dwight Howard is at fault.

Howard has destroyed this team with his selfishness and demands. By requiring a trade at the beginning of the season, he has told his teammates that he wants nothing to do with them. Over the past few weeks, Howard has publicly lashed out at his teammates for their lack of effort, but all it would take is one glance in the mirror to show him the root of the problem. Howard is trying to lead this team with one foot on the court and the other out the door, and is achieving unsurprising results.

The time has come for the Magic’s front office to put an end to this situation. The NBA has seen several high-profile stars holding their teams hostage with difficult demands. The last thing Orlando wants is for this situation to turn into one like LeBron James caused for the Cleveland Cavaliers two years ago. The Cavaliers’ front office was faced with the choice of accepting the inevitable by trading James to maximize their return, or holding onto their star in vain hopes that he would suddenly change his mind at the end of the season.

While the choice seems obvious, teams are very hesitant to trade their stars for fear of fans’ backlash. Owners know that, without their star, fan attendance and profits would plummet. Teams hesitate to use the term “rebuilding” because it sounds like a surrender; it is an admission of mediocrity. But trading an all-star isn’t always the same as waving the white flag. Sometimes it’s the best way to turn a losing team into a winning one.

Look at the Denver Nuggets, who dealt with a similar situation with their star Carmelo Anthony. He demanded to be traded to the New York Knicks, eliminating all leverage for the Nuggets, but the team still managed to get several good players. Now, one season later, the Nuggets are excelling with the second-best record in their conference.

The Orlando Magic’s performance over the past few weeks has done nothing to show that this team, with its current group of players, wants to win. The Eastern Conference is weak, and the team has just as good of a shot as any to make it to the playoffs. But, before they even think about playing in the postseason, their roster needs to change. Howard was once the heart and soul of this team, but now he is the cancer causing its decay.

Several trade possibilities have been rumored involving the New Jersey Nets, Los Angeles Lakers, and Dallas Mavericks — the three teams Howard said he would sign a long-term deal with. Any deal with the Nets would center around Brook Lopez, their young star center. Trades with the Mavericks and Lakers would revolve around players such as Jason Terry and Andrew Bynum, respectively.

Trading Howard allows the Magic to get something for their elite center. If the team waits until the end of the season, the best they can hope for is a nice sign and deal that gets them some expiring contracts and a draft pick. At worst, they let Howard walk away, gaining nothing, a scenario all too familiar to Orlando (Shaquille O’Neal left for Los Angeles after his contract expired). But if the Magic trades Howard right now, the team itself can salvage its season and start to restock its talent.

Howard has made things difficult by publicly stating which teams he would sign long-term deals with, but it’s still possible for the Magic to find a good trade. Their front office just needs to stop dragging its heels and make the most of a bad situation.