John Denton of the Orlando Magic's official website reports the team has granted Dan Fegan, the agent for superstar center Dwight Howard, permission to talk to three teams regarding potential trades for his star client. Those teams are the Los Angeles Lakers, New Jersey Nets, and Dallas Mavericks. Howard himself may not speak to these teams, but Fegan may on his behalf.
Denton's report clears up confusion late Friday night and early Saturday morning about whether or not the Magic granted that permission. First it was reported Orlando gave Howard the OK to talk to three teams, with New Jersey being one and the identities of the other two unknown. Then Alex Martins, the team's newly promoted CEO, denied that claim. Moments later, it was reported that Otis Smith, the Magic's President of Basketball Operations, did give Howard permission to speak with three clubs. What a mess.
Denton believes this news signals Howard's "days in Orlando seem numbered," but cautions that Howard has changed his mind several times before.
Much more on this situation, including coverage from the Magic's first day of training camp, follows the jump.
Both Howard and the Magic are at a crossroads. Howard can become a free agent in the summer of 2012 and could choose to leave Orlando, which has yet to build a championship-winning team around him. New Jersey will have the necessary salary-cap room to sign him outright, while most of the league's other teams would need to shed salary in order to do so. He has leverage over Orlando because he can, through his agent, make clear which teams he would not consider re-joining in free agency. Those teams, in turn, would not bid on him via trade. He can stay in Orlando or flee to a larger market with more talented teammates.
Orlando's choice is to either keep building around Howard--which could entail making big-time trades and spending freely--or to begin setting the stage for life without him. The Magic have made it abundantly clear in recent days they will not simply let Howard walk away as an unrestricted free agent this summer; if he indicates he has no plans to re-sign with Orlando, Smith will not hesitate to trade him.
Howard's comments during his first media availability session of the young season offered little consolation to Magic fans who don't want him to leave, though he did wear a fitted cap with ORLANDO stitched across the front and an NBA logo on the side. He didn't exactly deny reports that he's spoken with other teams, including an alleged meeting with representatives from the Nets on Thursday night. "I have not had any conversations with anybody," he said. "If my agent has or anybody I'm associated with has, you will have to talk to them."
There was also this exchange between Brian Schmitz and Howard:
"Dwight, can you see yourself staying here the whole season?" the Orlando Sentinel scribe asked.
"Um, well as of right now I'm here. That's the only thing that matters. And that's it."
Howard's availability session ended abruptly after he referred to ESPN reporter Chris Broussard as "Jesus' sister," referencing his perception that fans seem to view Broussard as a conduit for delivering God's words. When Howard concluded answering that question, a Magic communications official said "see you tomorrow, guys," to the media and indicated to Howard he was free to head home.
I'm disinclined to believe Howard has already made up his mind to leave; I think he's conflicted, and his curt answers to certain questions Friday night were more a sign of fatigue--the Magic practiced for over three hours in their return to the floor--and frustration with the line of questioning than with genuine hostility, if that makes any sense. That he went through a Stan Van Gundy practice the day after celebrating his 26th birthday could also have contributed to the tone of his responses.
It's very clear that Howard can expect to hear these questions every day this season. In every city. After practice. Before games. After games. On off days. In one-on-one interviews he grants. He acknowledged it could be a distraction to his teammates, even saying some of them have told him they can't go out in public anymore because fans who recognize them pepper them with questions about Howard's status.
Perhaps Van Gundy summarized Friday's events best. "The NBA today was a three-ring circus and we were in the big top," Orlando's coach said.