The Magic are one of the teams lobbying hard -- real hard -- on getting a "franchise player" tag for each team to use as part of the next Collective Bargaining Agreement.
It might be their only hope.
With center Dwight Howard expected to exercise his option to become a free agent after the 2011-12 season -- and possibly leaving for greener pastures -- the Magic are scared of what the future could hold.
They saw what it did to the Cleveland Cavaliers when they lost LeBron James last summer. They know firsthand how devastating it can be, having lost Shaquille O'Neal that way in the summer of 1996.
They have been crushed before. Keeping Howard is the only way to avoid having history repeat itself. Under the terms of the current CBA, the chances of keeping him are not good.
But the new CBA being negotiated now could give them -- and every other smaller market team -- real hopes of keeping their stars. If the owners don't get the "franchise player" tag that many want, they at least want a way to have a much bigger advantage when faced with trying to keep their own free agents.
The Magic are sweating the negotiations as much as anyone, knowing how big the stakes are. With a new arena and 20,000 seats to fill in a small market, the loss of Howard could be devastating. When O'Neal left, it was 10 years before they recovered.
Howard, meanwhile, has turned down a contract extension and wants to keep his options open. His eyes are wandering, seeing how other teams like Miami have accumulated stars. And it's starting to happen in New York, leaving him without a viable co-star for the future.
The Magic are coming off a disappointing season and are saddled with a roster that doesn't fit very well. The new CBA might be their only hope.
Dwight Howard won his third consecutive Defensive Player of the Year Award, but he also improved considerably on offense, averaging a career-best 22.9 points. His rebounding and blocked shots dipped slightly, but he more than made up for it with his expanding offensive game. J.J. Redick also continued to improve, although he missed the last four weeks of the regular season with a lower abdominal strain.
The Magic did a major overhaul late in December, trading Rashard Lewis to Washington for Gilbert Arenas, and trading Vince Carter, Mickael Pietrus and Marcin Gortat to Phoenix to get Jason Richardson and Marcin Gortat, believing it could spark them to a championship run. But it backfired, and led to the inconsistencies that plagued the team all season and right into the playoffs. They essentially traded the core that helped them to the conference final the year before only to develop some bad chemistry that led to their early downfall this season. Figuring out what to do next is a quandary.
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