For about nine months in 2012, it seemed inevitable that Dwight Howard would team up with Deron Williams on the Brooklyn Nets. With dozens of trade packages, possibly illegal meetings, and various rumors of will-he-won’t-he, the “Dwightmare” finally came to an end (mostly) at the trade deadline in 2011, when Howard flip-flopped one last time, deciding to opt into the final year of his contract and stay with the Magic.
His reasons why have always been murky… until now. J.J. Redick, a Magic guard at the time, spoke with Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports/The Vertical podcast about that fateful night, explaining what happened on the plane ride that changed Howard’s mind for good.
J.J. Redick: (Dwight)’s free agency’s approaching, he wants to go to a bigger market, which is every player’s right to choose where they want to go during free agency, and I want to say that there’s a deal on the table right before the season started, right after the lockout ended, for him to go to Brooklyn. And I can remember being in the shower after practice, one of those first practices — we had like a week of practice, and then the season started. We’re second day, third day, whatever it was, and him saying ‘I love you guys, I’m headed to Brooklyn, trade’s going down later tonight.’
And so I’m like on Twitter, on HoopsHype, you know, for 24 hours, like ‘when is this going down?’ And then it didn’t go down. And I think for the rest of the season, there was an underlying resentment because of that.
Adrian Wojnarowski: … Dwight was ticketed to Brooklyn. He was going to opt out of his deal in 2012, and you guys are in San Antonio, you’re flying back, and he’s starting to have second thoughts, and everybody’s working him over. The plan was he would opt out, he would sign with the Nets, he would team up with Deron Williams and that was going to be. And something happened there on the flight — and again, you were there for it the way you were there when DeAndre (Jordan) flipped. Did you feel like you were sort of changing the course of the organization that night? Did you think he was — he was flip-flopping back and forth, right, and you guys got in his ear and you got him to stay.
JJR: As I mentioned before, I ride the second bus, so the last bus to the arena. It’s typically about two hours before game time. And that day in San Antonio, I was also on the second bus. So I get on there about five minutes before it’s scheduled to leave. About five minutes after it’s scheduled to leave, there’s no sign of Dwight. We’re all like, ‘alright, we’ve gotta go. We’ve got a game.’ It’s an ESPN game, by the way. Wednesday night game. So about ten more minutes go by. 15 minutes go by. 20 minutes go by. We’re all like, ‘where’s Dwight? What’s going on?’
And I guess he was on a conference call (with) the Magic executives, who were not in San Antonio with us, but they were back in Orlando. So they were all on a conference call with the DeVos family, trying to persuade him to eventually opt in and return and give it one more go. And he got on the bus, and the thing was if he was getting on the bus, then he was going to play the game and that was it.
So he gets on the bus, and we’ve all gotten word that he’s not going to opt in, this is his last game with the Magic, we go play the game —
AW: Because the team at this point, if he wasn’t going to opt in, they were gonna —
JJR: This was — I think this is not as emphasized as much, but given what happened with LeBron in 2010, the mindset of teams at the time was ‘if my superstar can’t guarantee that he’s gonna re-sign with us, then we need to get assets in return. We don’t want to lose him for nothing. And I don’t know that expirings are the same as they were two or three years ago, but that was the mindset back then.
So we play the game, we get on the bus, and we get on the plane, and then I was kind of in the back of the players section, listening to music and then all of a sudden I notice that guys are kind of goofing around, and they start taking pictures, and it’s like, this is our last time together. We’re gonna take pictures. So they start taking photos of each other, I think somebody had posted a photo on Twitter.
And then like after five minutes, Dwight’s just like, ‘you know what, I love you guys. I’m coming back.’
And really, that was it! That was it! There was no, like — there wasn’t a heart-to-heart, it was just he was having a good time on the plane, and decided he wanted to come back. And I’m sure there was more to it than that, but —
AW: Maybe not.
JJR: — I don’t know. So we land, and Otis was there, Otis Smith, our GM at the time, was there to meet us at the plane, and we land, and Dwight’s like ‘I’m ready to sign the opt-in.’ Otis says, ‘hey man. Go sleep on it. Meet me in the morning, we’ll talk about it. And they do their press conference the next day, and shortly thereafter (in April), Stan has a press conference after shootaround, and that’s… an infamous scene as Dwight walks into an ambush. Felt bad for Dwight for that.
If you’d like to listen to yourself, here’s that link again. The Dwight talk begins at around 19 minutes.
After Howard opted into the last year of his contract, the Nets moved on, trading for Joe Johnson and re-signing Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Deron Williams, and Brook Lopez to multi-year deals. The Nets used many of the assets they’d offered to the Magic for Howard to build their team in Brooklyn, but after three years in the playoffs and one series win, they’re near the bottom of the Eastern Conference without their first-round draft pick.
The Magic then ended up dealing Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers in a four-team deal that netted them Arron Afflalo, Nikola Vucevic, and a smattering of other players. The Magic are in playoff contention this season; Howard played with the Lakers for one season before joining the Houston Rockets, who made it to the Western Conference Finals last year.