In December 2011, Dwight Howard announced he wanted out of Orlando. Between then and August 2012, when Howard was traded to the Lakers, the Magic locker room went through an emotional rollercoaster anticipating Dwight’s decision.
Jameer Nelson, a former teammate of Howard and one of his closest friends in Orlando, joined Raja Bell and Logan Murdock on ‘Real Ones‘ and talked about how the team coped with Dwight’s trade request.
It was a divided room. Some guys on the team were like, ‘He needs to go because it was too much of a distraction,’ the organization basically said, ‘We need him.’ I was in the middle like if that’s what he wants to do, it’s a business, he got to do what he got to do for his career.Jameer Nelson, Real Ones
At the time of Dwight demanding a trade, the Magic were coming off their fourth straight 50-win season. They even made the NBA Finals in ’09 but lost a five-game series to Kobe Bryant and the LA Lakers.
With a system Stan Van Gundy implemented and a solid supporting cast around their superstar big, most were of the opinion the Magic were a couple of pieces away from finally taking that next step and winning the first NBA title in the organization’s history. But Howard’s trade request said the opposite — he no longer believed they could do it.
I’ll be lying if I didn’t feel like he wasn’t saying the guys around him weren’t good enough at the time. Maybe we weren’t; I don’t know. A lot of guys felt like he was just saying we weren’t good enough.Jameer Nelson, Real Ones
A few days before the ’12 trade deadline, it seemed like Dwight started believing in his team again. He told the organization he would stay and play out the season, hoping Orlando would roll the dice on his upcoming free agency. And that’s exactly what the Magic did.
Up until that point, we felt like he was leaving. I think we were coming back from San Antonio, and I was sleeping. Everybody was like, ‘Wake up; we’re taking a team picture.’ I’m thinking like, ‘Alright, it’s the last team picture.’ And the next thing you know, somebody’s like, ‘Yeah, he signed, he’s staying for the rest of the year.’Jameer Nelson, Real Ones
Orlando finished the lockout-shortened season as the sixth seed (37-29) in the East. But before their 1st round matchup against the Indiana Pacers, it was announced that Dwight would undergo back surgery that would keep him out of the postseason and the ’12 Summer Olympics in London. Without their best player, the Magic stood no chance against Indiana, who beat them in five.
A few months later, Howard was traded to the Lakers in a four-team deal, including Andrew Bynum – sent from LA to Philadelphia – and the Sixers‘ Andre Iguodala, who was shipped to Denver. Orlando received Aaron Afflalo and Al Harrington from the Nuggets, Moe Harkless, and Nikola Vucevic from the 76ers, and Josh McRoberts and Christian Eyenga from the Lakers.
He was a big piece to that puzzle, and still to this day; they’re trying to replace him. You can see that in the organization — it kinda set them back a little bit. You get a guy like that in Draft, you watch him grow, and then he leaves. If they would’ve had it their way in Orlando, I think he would’ve been there for his entire career.Jameer Nelson, Real Ones
Instead, Dwight forced his way out of Orlando and was never the same after that.