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Magic’s Howard will have back surgery and will not play this postseason

By Josh Robbins, The Orlando Sentinel –

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Orlando Magic will go into the postseason without their best player.

Dwight Howard is scheduled to have season-ending surgery to repair a herniated disk in his lower back Friday morning, team officials said Thursday night.

Robert Watkins, who will perform the surgery, and Magic team orthopedist Craig Mintzer both agreed that surgery was the best option for the perennial All-NBA center.

Howard had received an epidural last Friday in the hope that it would help him manage the pain as he attempted to rehabilitate his back at the Jewett Orthopaedic Clinic’s location at RDV Sportsplex.

“After consulting with the two doctors, it’s in his best interests to have surgery sooner rather than later,” Magic General Manager Otis Smith told the Orlando Sentinel. “Basically, the situation is not getting better. I’m not saying it got worse. It’s just not getting better.”

The surgery also means Howard will not play for Team USA in the upcoming Summer Olympics in London.

Howard has missed the Magic’s last six games and eight overall. In his absence, the team has compiled a 3-5 record and has struggled on the defensive end of the court, allowing opponents to shoot at least 50.0 percent from the field in six of the eight games.

The news that Howard was having surgery caught at least some of his teammates by surprise.

Dan Fegan, Howard’s agent, disclosed the news to ESPN before Magic officials had a chance to announce it formally.

The Magic rely on Howard as much as any team in the NBA relies on a single player. The 26-year-old center is the reigning three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, the league’s leading rebounder and the Magic’s leading scorer.

“It’s disappointing not to have a full roster, but it’s been that kind of season not just for us but for everybody: full of ups and downs,” Smith said. “We just have to continue to endure, continue to fight and continue to do the things we’ve been doing from Day One with the understanding that when your best player’s not on the floor, everybody else has to step up.”

In recent days, WKMG reported that Howard had called 86-year-old Magic owner Rich DeVos during a recent game against the Atlanta Hawks and told DeVos that he would no longer play for coach Stan Van Gundy. The report also strongly hinted that Howard would miss the playoffs even if he was healthy enough to play because he doesn’t want to play for Van Gundy.

Howard’s camp adamantly maintained that Howard wanted to play this postseason, and several NBA sources said the report that Howard had called DeVos was inaccurate.

Howard said he felt badly that he will have to undergo surgery.

“It hurts (emotionally),” Howard said, according to ESPN. “That’s the first thing — it hurts. And then with people saying and thinking I’m quitting on my team. This is a real issue. I tried to play through it, and it just made my back worse.”

Howard missed games on April 1 and April 3 because of his back problems, but then he played two more games, including on April 7, aggravating his back in the process. Five days later, he practiced with the team and once again aggravated the injury.

That’s when he went to Watkins for a second opinion.

“He wants to play,” said Smith, who said he has spoken with Howard. “Sometimes the best interests of a player are not always what a player wants. Of course, he wants to play. He wants to be with his teammates.”

On March 15, the day of the NBA trade deadline, Howard waived his contract’s early-termination option after DeVos told him the team would trade him if he didn’t sign the waiver.

Howard remains under contract with the Magic through next season. But there is a possibility that he will ask for a trade this offseason.

Smith said he isn’t worried about Howard’s long-term Magic future right now.

“I’m more concerned about the player,” Smith said.

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