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Back surgery only certainty in season of intrigue for Howard

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Has Dwight Howard played his last game for Stan Van Gundy? (Getty Images)  
Has Dwight Howard played his last game for Stan Van Gundy? (Getty Images)  

Dwight Howard will board a plane to Los Angeles on Friday, and soon after he lands, he'll be flat on an operating table having surgery on his spine. And just like that, Superman's bizarre season in Orlando will come to a fitting end.

A season of drama, indecision, public embarrassment and unseemly squabbling with his coach will end for Howard with the one thing that has been so elusive for him and for the Magic: finality.

Well, two things: finality and closure. More than we may know, perhaps, on both counts.

Howard won't play another game for the Magic this season, and he may never play another game for coach Stan Van Gundy. Who knows? After all this, he could have played his last game for the Magic, period. Water hasn't simply flowed under the bridge between Howard and the Magic this season. It's a roaring rapids under there, and when the tide finally goes out, it's hard to imagine there will be any common ground left.

For now, whatever flaws and misfortunes befall Van Gundy and the Magic in the playoffs will have to take place without the supernatural force of athleticism and distraction who has stood right in the middle of it all. For now, that's all we know for sure.

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Howard's agent, Dan Fegan, said Thursday night that Howard will have surgery in Los Angeles on the herniated disk that has caused him to miss all but two games since April 1.

"He has a herniated disk, and the tear got worse," Fegan said by phone from Los Angeles. "They tried their best to rehab it, but both Dr. [Robert] Watkins and the Magic doctors agreed that surgery is needed."

Magic spokesman Joel Glass said the team's medical staff was involved in the decision for Howard to have surgery.

"The recommendation has been agreed upon by all medical personnel involved in his care," Glass said.

That is how weird this Magic season, and the various Howard sagas, have been. You needed confirmation from Howard's representative and his employer, just to make sure everyone was on the same page. And in fact, it was the first time they've all been in agreement in some time. Last we saw Howard and Van Gundy, after all, Howard was denying he asked the team to fire the coach, moments after the coach had confirmed that, in fact, he had.

So in that way, everyone agreeing that the franchise center would be having back surgery Friday was no small achievement. Given the latest Dwightstorm out of Orlando, where it was reported Thursday that Howard told owner Rich DeVos he didn't want to play another game for Van Gundy, you half expected him to change his mind about going under the knife before the news cycle even had a chance to churn. The way this season has unfolded for Howard and the Magic, it seemed not only possible but likely that someone would have a different opinion. Maybe a third surgeon would hold a press conference in front of a Magic banner and proclaim that he wanted the other surgeons fired.

That's how it's gone. But the back -- the spine -- is no joking matter. So as fishy as this whole injury situation has been for Howard, consider this: Who lets humans use surgical instruments on their spine just to prove a point?

Not even Howard would do that. Indeed, a league executive with knowledge of the situation told CBSSports.com Thursday that the alleged phone call from Howard to DeVos about Van Gundy "never happened." A second person close to Howard called the notion "ridiculous."

Howard has been ridiculous about a lot of things over the past month or so, but I'll take him at his word that if he's letting a man mess with his vertebrae, he really needs it.

The bottom line is that Howard is done for the season, the Magic are done in the first round, and Howard is virtually certain to miss the Olympics -- the latter from a league source familiar with USA Basketball matters. The developments with Howard mean that Knicks center Tyson Chandler is a virtual lock to replace him, sources said. With Lamar Odom likely out of the Olympic mix, too, Miami's Chris Bosh -- who like Odom has played the five spot internationally -- also is a likely addition to the USA roster, sources said. A third spot could open up for Timberwolves rebounding and 3-point-shooting machine Kevin Love, with Blake Griffin and Rudy Gay also expected to get serious consideration. How healthy Derrick Rose is this summer after what is expected to be a long playoff run also could impact the Team USA roster, which, like the Magic, suddenly is in upheaval.

But the real question isn't about Olympic gold or roster spots. It's about where the Magic go from here. After all this about Howard wanting to be traded, refusing to waive his opt out, then waiving his opt out, how bizarre an ending would it be for him to be traded this summer anyway? There's real skepticism among those who know Howard about whether he and the Magic can possibly patch things up; his back, injured as it is, will be a lot easier to mend. The Howard saga could rock the Magic organization to its core, the way LeBron's departure for Miami caused a massive makeover in Cleveland. Superstar divorces are ugly, and there are few survivors. Sometimes, they take a little longer -- and are a little messier -- than others.

But for once, there's a measure of certainty surrounding the drama that has ensnared Howard and the Magic for months. We've seen the last of Howard in a Magic uniform until next season. That much, we know. And we all should have learned our lessons last month about how much we think we know about what happens next.


Before joining CBSSports.com, Ken Berger covered the NBA for Newsday. The Long Island, N.Y., native has also worked for the Associated Press and can be seen on SportsNet New York. Catch Ken every Saturday, when he hosts Eye on Basketball from 6-8 p.m. ET on cbssportsradio.com
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