The question will trail the Magic everywhere they go, whether they want it to or not. The broadcasts of Sunday’s matchup between Orlando and Oklahoma City offered that stark contrast in the story and where the team wants its focus and where the national media seems desperate to take it.
While Doris Burke and the ESPN broadcast talked endlessly on Dwight Howard’s trade request and the uncertain future for the Magic franchise, the Sun Sports broadcast in Orlando did not say a single word about it. Their focus was solely on the game and the new season. They even aired players, including a cheerful and happy Dwight Howard, singing karaoke to classic Christmas songs.
It was the extreme of the two poles in analyzing the Magic ‘s season opener. The Magic hoped to get by on just focusing on the game. The national media and everyone else wants to know the big question.
Even David Stern weighed in briefly on the never-ending Dwight Howard saga:
“That’s the beauty of the soap opera of basketball,” Stern said before Sunday’s game. “As in life, it’ll play out the way it plays out, and we’ll all be observers of it. I just don’t know.
“But, to me, I am of the view that when somebody has put in his years so to speak and he has earned his free agency he’s free to decide where he’ll sign, and he’s not under a compunction under our system to re-sign with a team if he doesn’t want to. But how it plays out? We’ll all wait and see.”
That is probably the diplomatic view. And certainly the one that would support continued free agency — something the players fought very hard to preserve almost exactly how it was before the lockout. Stern does not own the Magic and so it is doubtful he could veto any trades in the future. He is truly an observer.
And so are the media in this case. Everyone wants to know how this is going to get resolved. Even people in Orlando. The games are going to serve as a distraction for the uncertainty that each day will bring as we get closer to the March 15 trade deadline.
Things are very tight-lipped at the Amway Center and no one is saying much. When a reporter asked Stan Van Gundy last week if a “Dwight Howard trade was imminent,” he simply stated: “Dwight was here. He practiced. He will play tomorrow [the final preseason game against the Heat].”
Van Gundy knows what is going on around the team and what the media will be asking of him. Constantly. Even after losses, Van Gundy will get questions about Dwight’s effort. He brushed those questions aside as ridiculous after Howard’s lackluster performance against the Heat last week in Miami during the team’s opening preseason game.
It did not seem that question came up after Howard struggled to 4-for-12 shooting, 3-for-8 free throw shooting and 11 points. He did have 15 rebounds and looked as menacing defensively as he always is.
“The only way you can have a post-trade game plan is if you tell me who’s on my team,” Van Gundy said. “You want to tell me who’s not on my team, I have a tough time planning for that. I have absolutely no idea. If we trade Dwight for you [Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi] and [Orlando Sentinel writer] Brian [Schmitz], I’m not sure I could come up with a plan. You’re not planning ahead. I’m coaching this team.”
That seems to be the approach the Magic and the broadcast team took in Sunday’s game. No one can ignore the talk completely. Not Van Gundy. Not the Magic’s broadcast team. No one. It is THE story for the team until it finally gets resolved. It will not go away just because the team is playing a few games and the regular season has begun.
The Brook Lopez injury is going to slow things down as one of the teams pursuing Howard lost a major piece to trade to acquire Howard. And Orlando seems dead set on acquiring both Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum if the Magic deal with the Lakers. There does not appear to be much movement on the trade front.
And so, Orlando will play out this initial batch of games with the questions and rumors swirling. But likely little action.
There just is no hiding from the issue as the season begins.