Thursday , Jul , 12 , 2007 Oly Sandor

Should The Orlando Magic Have ‘Maxed’ Out Dwight Howard?

Dwight Howard’s five year, 80 million dollar contract puts him in elite company … He’s now a ‘max’ player, pulling in Kobe, LeBron, and D-Wade type bank … But is he worth it? Click here for news and analysis …

The Associated Press reports on Dwight Howard receiving a five year, 80 million dollar contract:

At just 21 years old, Dwight Howard already says he wants to retire here.

He and the Orlando Magic made it seem possible Thursday, as the former No. 1 overall pick singed a five-year contract extension worth approximately $80 million.

"Me and Mickey Mouse will be here forever," Howard joked.

It was Orlando’s second multimillion dollar move in as many days. The Magic officially pulled free agent All-Star Rashard Lewis from Seattle yesterday, agreeing to a six-year contract worth more than $110 million in a a sign-and-trade deal.

Those two moves will define the team for the foreseeable future, and general manager Otis Smith likes what he sees.

"You have to have a big guy in the middle. (Coach Stan Van Gundy) talked about the great perimeter players, and I feel very good about the opportunity to sign a big guy for a long period of time," Smith said of Howard.

Howard averaged a team-best 17.6 points and 12.3 rebounds last season, making his first All-Star game. He has not missed any of Orlando’s 82 regular-season games in three seasons, and already holds the franchise record for consecutive games played (246).

Howard shot 81 percent from the field over a five-game stretch last season, 10th best in NBA history behind eight Wilt Chamberlain performances and one stretch from Bob Hanson. He finished second in the league in field goal percentage, with 60.3 percent, and third in rebounding.

He says he’s still improving.

"Orlando has really seen just a little bit of Dwight Howard," he said. "There are a lot of things that I need to do to get better. I don’t really think I have scratched the surface of the things I know I am capable of doing, but each year and each game is an experience for me. And really I am just so excited right now, it’s hard to explain."

Like Lewis, Howard joined the league straight out of high school. But the 265-pounder from Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy was the top overall pick, while Lewis slipped into the second round.

Still, Howard said he didn’t feel pressured. Not as a team leader and not as the recipient of a rich new deal.

"God didn’t give me big shoulders for nothing, so I feel I can handle a lot of pressure," he said. "I am just very excited."

My Quick Take: Whenever I see him, he’s smiling. Big man, big pearly-white smile lighting up the room. On Thursday, had plenty to smile about. 

The center inked a five-year, 80 million dollar contract with the . With this deal, Howard joins the NBA’s elite, the maximum club, where players make the most money possible under the salary cap.

This is an exclusive bunch: Kobe, Shaq, T-Mac, Dirk, and Iverson. So, here’s the question: is Howard a ‘max’ player?

On the one hand, his five-year, 80 million dollar deal is justified. Howard posted impressive numbers last season: 17 points and 12 rebounds. He made his first All-Star appearance, where he wowed the crowd with his dancing skills. And at just 21 years old, he’ll continue to improve.

On the other hand, his five-year, 80 million dollar contract is expensive. Especially for someone who has been good, but never performed at an elite level. Last season, Howard seemed hesitant to impose his will on games. Some games he disappeared.

Then there are the league-wide whispers. You’ve heard them. Howard’s talented, but he’s too nice, too kind, and too into Disney. After all, a happy basketball player can never be a franchise player-the great ones are bad, they have killer instinct.

Personally, I see both sides of the argument. Howard’s potential is pretty bright. But the Magic, to an extent, are paying for potential.

I don’t buy the argument that nice guys can’t win NBA Titles, either. David Robinson has two rings.and each have four rings. Howard, just because he likes The Lion King, isn’t destined to finish last.

But, make no mistake about it, Howard better deliver or his pearly-white smile might disappear.

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