Surprise! Howard opts to stay in Orlando

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Surprise! Howard opts to stay in Orlando

From Comcast SportsNet
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- Magic center Dwight Howard has finally put an end to the back-and-forth NBA roller-coaster ride that he had taken Orlando on for the past four months. At least temporarily. Howard's 11th-hour decision before Thursday's trade deadline to waive the early termination option in his contract means he has a deal with the only franchise he's known at least through next season. "I'm glad this is finally over," Howard said at a news 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." But loyalty only goes so far, the Magic wanted it in writing. Had Howard not signed the papers, he would have been gone. "It was real," Orlando general manager Otis Smith said of the possibility of dealing Howard before he signed the waiver. "We weren't rolling the dice." But unless the Howard and the Magic can reach a long-term deal before next season begins, they're start right where they left off before Thursday. And it hasn't been pretty. The Magic organization trudged through repeated closed door waffling on Howard's part about a desire to play with multiple teams and players, the city hosted an awkward All-Star weekend and pacifying a patient fan base. Teammates have been frustrated and the situation has had an already intense Stan Van Gundy ready to blow a gasket having to answer -- or refusing to answer -- daily questions about Howard's status. Even Howard's mother chimed in at one point during the drama, saying that she thought her son should remain in Orlando. The saga continued until just hours before the trade deadline. It was originally thought by both the Magic and league office that both Howard and agent Dan Fegan had to sign the forms. But turns out only Howard's signature was needed, opening the door for one more possible change of heart. Though he had previously alluded to "getting bad advice" from people around him, Howard refused to touch the subject Thursday. "It doesn't matter at this point," he said. 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. But the four months it took Howard to make a decision impacted a lot of other people. Howard first requested a trade during the preseason and at the time he 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. He maintained that stance until changing his mind this week and expressing a desire to remain in Orlando this season, though he initially refused to waive his opt-out provision. Howard said he made his decision to waive the early termination clause in the hours after the Magic's loss to San Antonio Wednesday night and then notified the team via phone calls and text messages while on the team plane. His teammates were apparently unaware of the final change of heart, with Magic guard Chris Duhon posting on his Twitter account "Off to Orlando and the waiting game begins" shortly after the Spurs' game. But now Howard wants to put all that behind them. Howard says he's "all in" now and ready to give the organization a full season to improve the roster going forward. The Magic are 28-16 this season and seven games behind first-place Chicago. And despite everything Howard is averaging 21.2 points and a career-best 15.2 rebounds. "Now we can get back to playing basketball and having some peace and trying to win a championship," said Howard. "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 repeatedly Thursday he was both relieved and expressed a desire to make this a championship year for Orlando to make up for the off-court storms. But with no long-term commitment how long the calm will last is certainly still an open proposition. Unless Smith and Magic CEO Alex Martins can add pieces around Howard between now and the summer of 2013, this entire ordeal is set to play out one more time. Then there won't be an extra year to lean on. The Magic didn't make player moves Thursday, but Smith said improving the roster and resigning Howard go hand-in-hand. The Magic also would appear to have the advantage in signing Howard long-term because of 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. Martins, who has only been the Magic CEO since the preseason, said that part of the process was building a new relationship with Howard that he didn't have before. Martins said his focus will be on making Orlando what Howard needs it to be in hopes of getting the center to sign a long-term deal. But they can't come to an agreement, Howard could still be leaving Orlando -- just at a later date. Martins said having experienced O'Neal walk away in 1996, like his GM, was going to put the Magic first no matter what. "History plays a role in everything...and we 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."

Wonky streaks, good fortune over Cavs on the line for Bulls

Wonky streaks, good fortune over Cavs on the line for Bulls

No matter the metric or the occasion, the only thing definitive about the Bulls over the last two seasons has been their mystifying dominance over the Cleveland Cavaliers in head-to-head matchups.

That, and their fascinating streak of consecutive wins while playing at home on TNT, a streak that could end at 19 games Thursday night when the two teams with varying objectives clash at the United Center.

The Cavaliers are searching to find themselves, along with a light switch that will perhaps alert them to a lost defense over the past several weeks that has been worst in the league since the All-Star break.

The Bulls are searching for consistency, but since it’s probably a little too late in the season for that, they’ll settle for a playoff spot with eight games left.

They’ll take two straight wins for the first time in a month, if they can get it.

They’ll extend a goofy streak, if that’s what things will come down to.

“The big thing is obviously you have to execute very well against this Cleveland team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “You have to go out there with great urgency, great energy. I anticipate them coming in and playing with a ton of energy tomorrow. We’re going to have to match that. We’re going to have to come out and play physical basketball.”

Having a big break between games this late in the season is a rarity, as the Bulls have been off since Sunday evening, but it’s just another weird detail in this weird Bulls experience.

An experience that the mild-mannered Hoiberg has to experience from his couch some nights, such as watching the Miami Heat furiously steal a game in Detroit at the buzzer with a Hasaan Whiteside tip-in to extend a lead over his team to a game, followed by another win Wednesday to put more distance between the two teams.

“I did, actually,” said Hoiberg with a smirk when asked if he’s scoreboard watching and paying attention to the teams ahead of the Bulls in the playoff race.

After being prompted to give his raw emotions when Whiteside’s tip-in occurred, he slipped right back to Robo-Hoiberg—although one can imagine how animated he must’ve been while looking to catch a break from a previous contender for the eighth spot in the Pistons.

“It is what it is,” Hoiberg said. “You have to go out and worry about yourselves at this time of year. It was a great finish for Miami, obviously, the way that game ended. But there’s nothing you can do about that. You’ve got to worry about yourselves and hopefully go out and execute.”

Going 6-1 against the Cavaliers in his two seasons as Bulls coach is probably the biggest feather in his cap, including three wins in all three meetings this go round.

The rhyme or reason doesn’t seem explainable, but Nikola Mirotic seemed to give a few keys to the Bulls’ success over LeBron James’ Cavaliers: Sharing the ball, controlling the glass and getting back on defense.

“Against big teams, we play much better,” Mirotic said. “I don’t know why is the reason for that. We need to find a way to play against everybody like that. It’s on us. We just have to prove it.”

Usually, those tenets seem to work against most teams, not just the supremely talented champions who’ve just lost a grip on first place in the conference.

But their inconsistencies have left the Bulls here with a handful of games left before the April 12th finale.

A win over Cleveland could mean everything, or nothing at all, or something in between.

“Sure, we understand,” Mirotic said. “We’ve been in a very similar situation last year. We didn’t make the playoffs so this year we want to try to make that push. I think we have a good schedule for the last. Very important game tomorrow, huge one. I think we have played very well against Cleveland until now. We have a chance. We need to get out there and play with energy.” 

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