Just about every basketball pundit, blogger, writer and fan had two dates circled on their calendars when the fake schedule came out. Hardwood Paroxysm released a mock-up of the storylines entering that game in an imagined season back when the lockout seemed certain to cancel the season. When the new schedule came out, everyone noted that Howard would not be making any trips to Los Angeles in a Magic uniform (to see the Lakers or Clippers). The Los Angeles Lakers media contingent would have just one chance to talk to Howard before the All-Star Break and with the Lakers in town.
Shaquille O'Neal added some juice in continuing to tweak Howard and claim that Andrew Bynum, the allegedly favored trading piece in a potential Lakers deal, was a better "true" center (whatever that means).
Friday's game was a chance for the storm to swell and for the media to sink its teeth into the whole situation.
National writers like Ken Berger of CBS Sports and Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports were in Orlando for the big game. They tried to churn the rumor mill and get some hint out of Dwight. Howard was as tight-lipped and vague as he always is.
One thing did happen as the media's flash point in the Dwight Howard saga passed. The handicapping on Dwight Howard's future changed from "certain to be traded" to "likely to stay for the remainder of the year."
From Wojnarowski's article, entitled "Magic Are Too Good To Trade Howard":
"The Magic are 11-4 and good. They're really good. The Magic's reluctance to meet Howard's trade demands are simple: They're willing to test his mettle. Want to leave as a free agent and take $30 million less on the market? We dare you. It's a risky strategy, but the Magic know Howard better than anyone else. And they know he's inclined to change his mind on leaving because he's changed his mind on a lot of things here. And come July, Orlando could still get something back for him in a sign-and-trade scenario.
So why not let the schedule play out and see how deep they can get into this discombobulated lockout season?"
I will have plenty more on that exact scenario that might play out if Howard is in a Magic uniform on March 16 in the very near future. But what has become clear, especially as the Magic continue to win and compete for a top spot int he Eastern Conference, is that Orlando is not backing down from its "do everything we can to keep Dwight" attitude.
At the very least, we know Orlando will not make a deal that will take the team out of Playoff contention. And that means if Orlando is going to make a move, it seems more likely it will be to add someone rather than subtract someone.
The juiciest rumor came from Berger. Berger reported the Magic have "not ruled out making a play for Steve Nash in the event the Suns decided to trade the point guard to a contender before the March 15 deadline."
Acquiring Nash would have two benefits. The first would be bringing in a high caliber player who can control an offense, score when needed, run the pick and roll effectively with Dwight Howard and get everyone involved. Nash fits with just about any team he could play for (and yes, Magic fans, Stan Van Gundy would probably let him run wild and push the pace while pick-and-rolling teams to death). The second would be the fact Nash is a free agent next summer. So even if Nash ends up a rental, his $11.7 million salary would come off the books.
Theoretically that would free up some cap room to try and go after a big-name free agent to keep Dwight Howard around in free agency.
Any Nash deal is purely hypothetical at this point. Likely a trade for Nash would require Phoenix to take back Hedo Turkoglu and/or Jason Richardson along with likely either J.J. Redick or Ryan Anderson. Redick and Anderson are the two young players that hold the most value in the trade market. Bringing in another "star" in trade might take gutting the roster a bit. Otis Smith has to figure out what deal and what pieces necessary for it are worth it.
And that brings up the more immediate issue of Ryan Anderson's extension. I noted Friday that there is very little talk about an extension for Anderson before the Jan. 25 deadline for extension (that is also Howard's deadline to sign an extension... but that is not happening).
The question is not whether Anderson is worth an extension -- Berger believes Anderson is very likely to receive an extension. The question is how much will that extension be. I got a lot of response from readers about Anderson. Overwhelmingly everyone said Anderson should receive an extension. Putting a number on it is a little more difficult. Most said he is worth more to the team than Glen Davis and Jason Richardson. Both of those players received a $24 million, four-year deal this past summer.
Orlando is obviously in a tricky situation with Anderson. The team does not want to tie itself up too much with future salary considering the uncertainty with Howard and the likelihood that a trade has to be made to bring in the players necessary to keep Howard. Trading an Anderson on a one-year rookie deal with an offer sheet this summer is very different than trading an Anderson due $25-30 million over the next four years.
It will be intriguing to see if Otis Smith offers Anderson an extension and how much that offer will be for. The numbers on that extension are probably more important than whether the team actually extends his contract.
It all ties back to Howard though.
The Magic are not budging from their stance and belief that there is still a chance Howard will resign. With the team getting off to such a strong start, the franchise is inclined to play out this season with Howard and take their chances with one more summer of building and rebuilding to convince him the grass is not greener elsewhere.
There is still a lot of season left to play. This week will be a big test for the Magic against some of the East's best teams.
We will have to see how this whole thing develops.
At this point, the Magic are probably just happy to see the storm pass for a moment.