Speculation about the future of Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard is bound to increase as the March 15th NBA trading deadline approaches, and the pending free agent's situation remains fluid, but word around the league post All-Star Weekend is the Magic are likely to keep Howard beyond the deadline. Citing "sources," Steve Kyler of HOOPSWORLD reported Monday that the Magic's keeping Howard "is still a very real possibility." Howard, who has spent his entire eight-year career with Orlando since it made him the first overall selection in the 2004 NBA Draft, requested a trade from the Magic before training camp began, naming the Los Angeles Lakers, New Jersey Nets, and Dallas Mavericks as his desired destinations.
But the Nets, according to John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com, are convinced the Magic aren't motivated to trade Howard prior to March 15th, and are willing to enter the offseason with him on their roster. That strategy isn't without risk--Howard could leave the Magic outright, leaving them with no compensation for a once-in-a-generation talent--but it's nonetheless appealing to both sides, for a number of reasons.
As Kyler writes, there are currently four teams--maybe five--that will have the salary-cap flexibility to ink Howard if he indeed forgoes the final season of his contract in order to become a free agent in July. "How much bigger does the pool get if Howard waits another year?" Kyler asks. "Does a better situation surface in a year?" It certainly appears as though Howard wants to keep his options wide-open, and playing out the full length of his Magic contract enables him to do that.
This course of action has advantages for Orlando as well. As one source explained to Orlando Pinstriped Post during All-Star Weekend, every trade offer on the table for Howard at the moment will still remain on the table in July, and throughout next season if Howard decides not to exercise his early termination option; there is simply no incentive for the team to make a trade now when it can make the same deal after the season. In a worst-case scenario, Howard terminates his contract in 2012, tests the free-agent waters, and decides to sign elsewhere. The Magic would still be able to sign-and-trade him to the team he chooses while still receiving compensation for him. A sign-and-trade deal would guarantee Howard more money than he'd get if he simply signed with a new team outright.
The source Orlando Pinstriped Post spoke to during the All-Star festivities did not rule out the possibility the Magic would trade Howard before the deadline, but also said it's much more likely Orlando attempts to trade for another big-name player who can improve the team's championship chances this season and bolster its efforts to convince Howard to stay long-term; the source declined to name specific players the Magic might target, or which of their own players they may make available.