Dwight Howard will stay with the Magic

11:10 AM, Mar 15, 2012   |    comments
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ORLANDO, FL (USA TODAY) - Orlando center Dwight Howard, very late Wednesday evening, had yet another change of mind and heart, according to realgm.com, and will opt in to play the final year of his contract for the Magic in 2012-13.

"Man, listen, you know my heart, my soul and everything I have is in Orlando," Howard told realgm.com well after the Magic lost in San Antonio to the Spurs. "I just can't leave it behind. ...

"This has been a very hard time. For me, my family and all of us. The fans deserve a better hero, and I will make that happen. I love and appreciate my fans and this city."

According to a person familiar with the situation who requested anonymity until an official announcement, Orlando front office executives expected Howard sometime Thursday before the NBA's 3 p.m. ET trade deadline to sign the early termination document waiving his option to opt out of the final season of his contract and become a free agent.

However, Magic officials are not counting on anything until the paperwork is signed. The document requires the signatures of Howard and his agent, Dan Fegan. Howard is scheduled to earn $19.5 million if he remains with the Magic next season.

"I have gotten some bad advice," Howard told realgm.com. "I apologize for this circus I have caused to the fans of our city. They didn't deserve none of this. I'm sorry from the bottom of my heart. I will do whatever I can to make this right and do what I was put in Orlando to do."

Howard's decision impacts other teams and players. The New Jersey Nets, one of the teams Howard expressed an interest in playing for, went hard after the All-Star center to pair him with point guard Deron Williams as a great way usher in next season as the Brooklyn Nets in their new arena.

Now the Nets are faced with franchise-altering decisions. Williams can also opt out of the final year of his contract after this season and become a free agent this summer. Williams told USA TODAY he wanted to finish the season with the Nets and look at his options after the season, with the likelihood he will opt out.

The Nets (15-29) want Williams to stay with them and play in Brooklyn next season but they have to put pieces around him and convince him it's worth staying.

With Howard off the market - for now - the Nets have hours to make the kind of blockbuster deal that will entice Williams to sign a long-term deal with the Nets. If no deal exists, the Nets will be in the same position Orlando has been in with Howard. They risk losing Williams in free agency with little or no compensation in return.

That risk is real. If Williams hits free agency, the Dallas Mavericks will make a strong push to sign Williams, who played high school basketball in The Colony, Texas, a Dallas suburb.

Howard's latest decision caps a frenzied 36 hours in which Howard said Tuesday he wanted to remain in Orlando through this season. Wednesday afternoon he indicated he wanted to sign the waiver and play for Orlando next season. He changed his mind again just before the Magic's 122-111 loss at the Spurs, then switched again after the game.

Howard's indecision has been one hallmark of this drama. He requested a trade before the start of the season but told USA TODAY last month that remaining with the Magic was a "big possibility."

Magic CEO Alex Martins told USA TODAY last month that he believed Howard was torn about leaving the Magic for another team.

"I do think there's a piece of Dwight - I don't know how big the piece is - but there is a piece of Dwight that wants to be here, and deep down inside knows that this organization is committed to winning," Martin said.

Martins also said time was the Magic's biggest ally, and it looks like Orlando and Howard will use almost all the time allotted before the trade deadline expires.

The Magic also have other decisions to make if Howard goes ahead and signs the early termination waiver.

Because Howard would be locked in for next season only, Orlando must make personnel changes that would convince him to sign a long-term extension beyond 2012-13.

What does all this mean for general manager Otis Smith and coach Stan Van Gundy, who have been left hanging while Howard decides what to do.

What about other players on the team? Orlando has nearly $60 million in salary tied up in Howard, forwards Hedo Turkoglu and Glen Davis, guards Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson and J.J. Redick. Nelson could opt out but he is tight with Howard, who was the best man in Nelson's wedding.

Regardless, Orlando will be over the salary cap for next season and close to surpassing the luxury tax.

Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY

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