Dwightmare over, but Magic fans hurt

ORLANDO, Fla. -- For months and months, Orlando Magic fans have been clamoring for the Dwight Howard drama to end. It's finally over.

But as with many bad relationships, the idea of closure seems much better than it actually feels.

Magic fans have awoken from their Dwightmare with the realization that their best player is an undersized point guard and that significant salary cap relief won't come for at least two summers. After spending the past half-decade as NBA Finals contenders, the Magic will likely be a lottery team until campaign ads are running for the 2016 presidential election.

"I know the fans' feelings are not very happy, based on how people have been speaking with me this morning," said Dennis Salvagio, the lawyer better known as the Fat Guy, a season ticket holder since 1989 and the Magic's most visible fan. "It's funny how today the Magic have become 'my' team and not 'our' team. People are asking what 'my' team is doing with this trade. When we were winning, they were saying 'our team.'"

When a team trades away the generation's best big man for a package centering on Arron Afflalo, it's hard to blame them for being upset.

In an unofficial Twitter poll asking Magic fans what they thought of the trade, 86 of the 129 respondents (66.7 percent) didn't like the trade, 34 people (26.4 percent) approved and nine patient fans (7 percent) chose to hold off judgment.

Some other pertinent takeaways from the survey: Five people cursed at the trade, three made off-color jokes about suicide, three likened the trade to poop, and two called for the job of Rob Hennigan, who was hired as the Magic's general manager less than two months ago.

"I think fans are clearly disappointed," said Magic fan Ryan Totka, who created the now-very-sad website StayDwight.com. "I think we got the worst end of the deal out of the four teams. If you give up a big guy, you want a big guy in return. It wasn't a great value."

For some fans, the disappointment goes beyond their spirit and hits their pocketbooks.

George Gonzalez, a 42-year-old regional sales manager who lives in Orlando, feels cheated because the deadline to renew season tickets was in April when Howard and the Magic were grinning through their teeth and insincerely putting their arms around each other.

"We re-upped our season tickets when Dwight was saying he was going to stay," says Gonzalez, who has purchased season tickets since 2007 but doubts he will renew again next year. "The team looks a lot different now than it did back then. This isn't what I signed up for. It's not the same team."

The Magic are already scrubbing Howard off the franchise. Before the trade was officially announced, the Magic team store at the Amway Center featured a Jameer Nelson jersey on the display mannequin, with JJ Redick, Hedo Turkoglu and Glen Davis jerseys on the secondary displays. When the store clerk was asked where to find Howard's No. 12 jersey, he pointed to a waist-level rack lost in the middle of the store.

The Amway Center will need a makeover. A Godzilla-sized mural of Howard graces the wall of the arena's atrium, there's a life-sized doll of Howard dunking a basketball on the promenade level, and he is the star of the arena's fan zone. His face is all over the arena's walls and artwork.

Most of the Howard dedications will be removed, but some will stay for historical purposes, according to a team official.

If you visit the Magic's Facebook page or Twitter stream, things aren't pretty as fans voice their displeasure with Howard, the Magic, David Stern and the NBA in general.

"The fans here are incredibly passionate, and they care," Magic GM Rob Hennigan said. "Our hope is we'll be able to turn around this team and create an identity with this team our fans can relate to."

For fans who still love the Magic, many were just happy to see Howard go after the turbulent eight months since his original trade request in December -- even if the eventual trade wasn't ideal.

"The casual fans I know on a social level, they're mostly just happy the Dwight stuff is over with," says Brian Serra, who runs the Magic fan site MagicBasketballOnline.com. "Once it boiled back up again after the trade deadline, people were tired of it. They didn't care anymore. And they felt he didn't care about the city anymore, so they were ready to move on."

And the fat guy will still be dancing every home game.

"I know what loyalty is. I know that Jameer understands loyalty. I know JJ Redick understands loyalty. But I don't believe that -- what's his name, Dwight? -- understands that concept at all," Salvagio said. "I'm a Magic fan, and I'm going to continue to be a Magic fan. I realize we're not going to do as well as we did in the past eight years, but this is still my team."