The obvious is an NBA championship, especially for the all-or-nothing teams in the bracket, such as the Heat, Lakers, Celtics and Spurs.
Then there are the make-a-statement teams, such as the Knicks, Thunder, and perhaps even Bulls. Those aspirations can be addressed even before the NBA Finals.
And then there is the Orlando Magic. And all that is at stake this postseason ...
IS THE VERY FUTURE OF THE FRANCHISE!!!
Yes, all caps. Yes, three exclamation points.
Because unless you consider someone else, anything else, as essential to the Magic's future than Dwight Howard, what we have here are the most important days for the team since Pat Williams put a pair of Mickey Mouse ears on an NBA franchise.
NBA finals: Heat def. Thunder 4-1
Winderman: LeBron James has been a prodigy, superstar and villain. And now he's champion. The journey has left the league and Finals MVP humbled and happy for those closest to him.
For his part, Howard has said all the right things. He's not looking to leave. He doesn't even have a decision to make right now. He's still under contract. You know, sort of what Chris Bosh told the Raptors and LeBron James told the Cavaliers a year ago.
But the first two games of the opening round against the Hawks, alone, offer plenty of distress signals.
In Game 1, Howard scored 46 of the Magic's 93 points, and they still lost by 10.
In Game 2, Howard played all 48 minutes, and the Magic still found themselves in a two-point game with less than two minutes to go before holding on for a series-tying win.
In Game 1, there was little in the way of support beyond a single, third-quarter eruption by Jameer Nelson.
In Game 2, there was no one else to trust in the middle, Marcin Gortat suddenly becoming the Magic's version of Kendrick Perkins, the void that keeps on not giving.
But over these past five months, LeBron and Bosh sure look like they're having an awfully good time on South Beach. The criticism of their departures has diminished, the interest in their next stage increased.
A year ago, it was Dwyane Wade who said at the close of the first round, "This will be my last first-round exit for a while, I can tell you that."
The comfort for the Heat was the salary-cap space the team had available, and the fact that Pat Riley was the one who would spend it.
The Magic have no such salary slots. Instead, there is the shell game being played by general manager Otis Smith, the one that turned the really bad contract of Rashard Lewis into the really, really bad contract of Gilbert Arenas.
There is no growth potential in Orlando. Yes, the new arena is state of the art, arguably the best in the league. But it still is located in Orlando, where the palm trees do not reach the beach, let alone South Beach.
A year ago, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert steadfastly refused to consider trade options for LeBron. It was the right move. He appreciated what his franchise would look like without James. He realizes that every day these days.
Similarly, in Toronto, GM Bryan Colangelo bought into the possibilities presented by Bosh of a potential return. He paid the price this season.
That is the difference between Orlando and Cleveland, where there are other pro options or Toronto, where venting about the Maple Leafs provides ample distraction.
So behind Door A is Andrew Bynum, a deal that would land Howard alongside Kobe Bryant and arguably still leave Orlando with the best center in the Eastern Conference.
Behind Door B is Brook Lopez, a consolation prize that would place Howard alongside Deron Williams with a borough he soon could call his own with the Nets.
Because as long as Howard has to score half his team's points and play all 48 minutes, and as long as deep ensembles in Boston, Miami and Los Angeles show how much fun the game can be when played as a team sport, who could begrudge a relocation?
Of course a deep playoff run could ease the angst for the Magic and for those flocking to StayDwight.com, a site created to offer "a place for our community to come together to show their support and love of our hometown hero, Five Time All-Star Dwight Howard ... and why he belongs in Orlando."
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
The billboard near Amway Center reads, "Dwight Howard, This Is Your City."
And at least in the coming days, the Magic are his burden.
But, soon enough, he will get to play the role of LeBron and Bosh and make a decision for himself. Or he can go Carmelo Anthony and force a decision before his 2012 opt out arrives.
For now, it's about saying the right things, such as, "I have to do a lot for my team. They do a lot for me."
But it's not about what his teammates have done or are doing, which isn't very much. It's about a front office in a tight spot, reliant on a single player perhaps more than any other contender, with no one or nowhere to turn to for relief.
There are only two possible outcomes:
A 2011 championship to ease the comfort of a future in Orlando.
Or a change-of-address card.
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