Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Orlando's Howard wants out of Mickey Mouse town

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ORLANDO, Fla. -- When Magic star Dwight Howard signed a contract extension in 2007, he joked that he and Mickey Mouse would be in Orlando forever.

Now Howard wants out, putting one of the NBA's most dominant big men on the block at the start of training camp.

Howard acknowledged for the first time Saturday that he has formally requested a trade. It came a day after the team granted New Jersey, Dallas and the Los Angeles Lakers permission to talk to Howard's agent, Dan Fegan, about possible deals.

The all-star centre is eligible to opt out of his current contract in July 2012.

Wearing a retro Magic hat, Howard spent a stoic half-hour explaining his reasoning and expressed empathy for a fan base that had to watch Shaquille O'Neal depart for the Lakers in 1996. Howard likened his trade request to a divorce that only one party wants.

"I've done everything for this city. I don't think people understand the magnitude of love I have just for this city," he said. "It's beyond basketball. I think people, anybody should understand that. For me this has just not been a city I enjoy playing basketball in. I love everybody here, that's why it's been so tough."

He said the decision went deeper than what happened on the court, but also said recent playoff disappointments played a role. He alluded to the hurt he felt as he watched the Lakers celebrate their 2009 NBA championship on the Magic's home floor.

"I've been back and forth," he said. "And if you hate me because of a jersey, then you never really loved me. That's how I feel."

Magic general manager Otis Smith said he would still like to see Howard eventually decide to stay in Orlando, but in the meantime they would explore options that were in the best interests of the Magic.

"When you invest seven years in a player and that's what he decides, then you have to deal with that... But it's not the end of the world," Smith said.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 11, 2011 B6

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