The locker room sideshow that continues to overshadow the Orlando Magic’s play on the court is set to lose one of its principal characters for the rest of the season.
All-Star center Dwight Howard will have season-ending back surgery Friday which will keep him out of the playoffs and prevent him from playing with the U.S. national team at the London Olympics.
The operation is intended to repair the herniated disk that has sidelined Howard for the last two weeks. Over the same period, Howard’s relationship with head coach Stan Van Gundy has continued to deteriorate before a national audience, causing some to question Howard’s maturity and commitment to the Magic.
“It hurts (emotionally),” Howard told ESPN’s Chris Broussard. “That’s the first thing — it hurts. And then with people saying and thinking that I’m quitting on my team. This is a real issue. I tried to play through it and it just made my back worse.”
Back issues have plagued the six-time All-Star all season, but last week doctors discovered the herniated disk.
Before the season began, Howard requested a trade, and well into the season rumors of his discontent and a possible move continued to surface. Then, in a sudden change of heart last month, Howard announced he would waive his early-termination option after this season, which will keep him under contract with the Magic through the 2012-13 season.
“Man, listen, you know my heart, my soul and everything I have is in Orlando,” Howard told RealGM after announcing his decision to stay put. “I just can leave it behind.”
But it appears Van Gundy will not be around to coach him next season, per Howard’s wishes.
Earlier this month, Van Gundy told reporters that Howard had asked team management to have him fired.
“That’s just the way it is,” Van Gundy said. “Again, I’ve been dealing with that all year. It’s not anything real bothersome. You go out and do your job.”
The Magic currently hold the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race and would be matched up against Indiana if the playoffs began today. They are 3-3 without Howard over their last six games.
As for Team USA, replacing Howard could be an issue. With Portland Trail Blazers center LaMarcus Aldridge recovering from right hip surgery, the squad’s towering front line has already taken a hit. USA Basketball chairman Jerry Coangelo said Thursday night that it was still too early to speculate on Howard’s availability for London.
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