Saturday, December 17, 2011

Magic to keep Dwight Howard, for now

ORLANDO, Fla. - It appears that the Orlando Magic have decided against trading Dwight Howard for now, because General Manager Otis Smith believes the same offers - and perhaps better ones - still will be available up until the March 15 NBA trade deadline.

And perhaps Howard will decide to remain with the Magic.

On Wednesday, the Magic passed up an offer from the New Jersey Nets that also involved the Portland Trail Blazers. Orlando would have received at least center Brook Lopez from the Nets and swingman Gerald Wallace from the Blazers. In addition to trading Howard, the Magic would have sent away small forward Hedo Turkoglu and point guard Chris Duhon and their large contracts.

"I don't think there's anything on the table that won't be on the table three months from now," Smith told the Orlando Sentinel.

But Smith also denied multiple reports, citing unnamed sources, that said the Magic have told teams they are ending trade discussions about their All-NBA center.

"That's not where we are," Smith said. "What we've basically said is we don't feel like we have to trade him today. We're going to continue to look and explore opportunities. Actually, I don't know if anything changed in my mind.

"We're still exploring all opportunities. Our first opportunity is to keep him in a Magic uniform."

After practice Wednesday, Howard emerged from the team's locker-room area smiling.

He launched into singing in a high falsetto when he faced a question about his trade prospects.

"All that matters is we're practicing and trying to get better," Howard sang (badly).

And he continued singing: "So whatever happens is going to happen. Regardless of what happens, right now, I'm with the Magic. That has not changed, so there's no need to go back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth, because it hasn't changed. Right now, I'm still in Orlando."

When a reporter for the team website asked him about the day's scrimmage, Howard immediately shifted into serious mode.

"The scrimmage was great," Howard said, no longer singing. "Yeah, we had a great scrimmage. I think everybody looked good. I really like how DeAndre (Liggins), the rookie (played)."

Dan Fegan, Howard's agent, has permission to facilitate potential deals for his client, and one potential deal partner is New Jersey, which can offer Lopez and payroll relief to the Magic in return.

Fegan would not comment.

The Los Angeles Lakers still have interest in Howard. Smith may hope the Lakers offer both Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.

Any trade involving the Nets would include a third team and perhaps a fourth team. The Magic would want to dump the salary of Turkoglu and maybe Duhon, who are both signed for the next three seasons for a total of about $45 million.

"It's all a part of the business," Duhon said. "Right now, I'm an Orlando Magic. Come tomorrow, I'll be an Orlando Magic. If something else changes, then it happens. It just comes with the business."

If the team jettisons Turkoglu and the three years and $34 million remaining on his contract, Orlando would have a glaring need for a new starting small forward.

That swingman could be Wallace, a former All-Star.

Rumors surrounding the Nets heated up Tuesday night after Nene - another client of Fegan's whom the Nets had pursued - re-signed with the Denver Nuggets.

Magic CEO Alex Martins and Smith have said in recent days that the Magic still are hopeful Howard will decide to remain with the franchise.

On Wednesday, Smith moved to downplay Howard's contention, made Sunday, that their relationship has eroded in recent months.

"I talk to him every day," Smith said. "I hug him every day, so I'm not necessarily sure what he's referring to."

The question is, just how much hope do the Magic really have that they can keep Howard?

To what degree, if any, were Monday's optimistic statements by Martins simply rhetoric to try and scare potential trade partners into improving their offers?

To what degree were those statements public-relations damage control?

The Magic's key deadline is March 15, which is the NBA's trade deadline.

By that date, the Magic would have to decide whether they'll take the risk of holding onto Howard and potentially getting nothing in return if he decides to go elsewhere via free agency.

Any team that acquires Howard before the deadline would inherit Howard's Bird rights. That team would be allowed to sign him for five years with 7.5 percent annual raises once he opts out of his current deal before July 1 and becomes a free agent.

However, as ESPN NBA analyst and former Blazers Vice President of Basketball Operations Tom Penn has noted, any cap space the Nets have now to take on salary could evaporate as New Jersey fills out its roster in the days and the weeks ahead.

Magic officials agree with the vast majority of NBA observers: that Bynum is a far better player right now than Lopez. But with Bynum, there is a risk with the long-term health of his knees.

By turning down the Nets-Blazers deal, Smith is following a low-risk, high-reward strategy.

On one hand, he faces the risk that he won't receive a comparable offer down the road if the team decides it must trade Howard.

On the other hand, perhaps Howard will decide to remain with the Magic. That scenario seems unlikely, but Smith believes it's worth a shot.

© Copyright (c) McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Photograph by: Joe Skipper, Reuters


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