It’s all smiles in Orlando: Howard opts in for 2012-13

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Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard announced earlier today that he will be staying in Orlando, at least through the 2013 season.

After months of wavering between staying with the Magic, and demanding to be traded, Dwight Howard has officially opted to stay in Orlando.

Howard signed the papers early Thursday afternoon, and is now guaranteed to stay in Orlando until at least the end of the 2012-13 season.

“I’m glad this is finally over with,” said Howard. “I want to thank Alex and Otis for the talks we’ve had in the past year or so about how to make this team, city, and organization better.”

According to Magic CEO, Alex Martins, Howard made his decision sometime last night, between leaving the locker room in San Antonio, and arriving back in Orlando.

With Howard’s guarantee to stay in Orlando through next season, he left roughly $20 million on the table, which some have criticized as a bad business decision.

“I’m not like those guys that they’re trying to paint me to be. I’m loyal,” said Howard. “That’s just who I am, that’s just my nature. I just want to do whatever helps my team to win.”

This ends months of discussions following Howard’s demand to be traded from the Magic. Howard expressed his disappointment in the team’s commitment to win, and Magic general manger Otis Smith’s approach of acquiring talent to place around Howard in order to build a championship team.

With uncertainty of whether or not Howard would stay with the Magic, Martins was very open about the team’s preparations of trading Howard, just in case.

“We were going to make sure that Dwight stayed here,” said Martins. “But, if Dwight made a different decision, we were prepared to make sure we didn’t have the same outcome as in the late 90s.”

Martins is referring to when former center Shaquille O’Neal left Orlando, without the Magic getting any compensation in return for him.

Now that this distraction is behind them, Howard and his teammates can focus on their path to the 2012 playoffs. The Magic are currently the third best team in the Eastern Conference, with an overall record of 28-16.

“Despite what’s been going on around us, we’ve been able to bond and grow as family,” said Howard about his teammates. “We developed something that will last forever, and we’ve always had each other’s backs.”

The season continues for the Magic with a game against the New Jersey Nets, Friday in Orlando. The Nets were one of the teams Howard was rumored to be traded to.

Until Friday’s game, Howard only has one plan to celebrate his commitment to Orlando.

“How do I plan to celebrate? I’m just going to go home and play some video games,” said Howard.