It is hard to know what to beleive when it comes to the latest updates in the Dwight Howard saga. The Magic are content to wait out trade offers right now. That has been the team's stated position for the entire season. Until Dwight completely closes the door on returning or the Magic get the offer they are looking for, it seems the trade talk is off the table. At least until the All-Star Game.
There have been developments though and tea leaves to divinate.
The first, Orlando has ridden a roller coaster of a beginning of the season and seem to have settled into the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference. That is certainly not the "championship caliber" team Howard is looking for. A finish in the sixth position -- even if it would mean a fairly close matchup with Indiana in the postseason and a chance to get to the second round -- is probably not enough on its own.
Yes, the Magic are playing a dangerous game with Dwight Howard right now. It might be the only game to play with the offers available and the list Howard has given the team.
The plain fact is that the Nets, the Mavericks and the Lakers do not have the pieces the Magic want in return for Dwight Howard with the still-lingering chance Howard could stay. Orlando is not very interested in Andrew Bynum and his shaky knees by himself. Nobody is sold on Brook Lopez it seems. And Dallas knows its best shot to get Dwight is in free agency -- and the team still needs to make moves to make that happen.
Of course, those offers begin to look better if Howard unequivocally tells Orlando he is not returning.
That does not seem likely. And, if you believe the latest round of rumors, the list is narrowing down. Jarrod Rudolph of RealGM reported Howard has soured on the Lakers for a variety of reasons, including a desire not to follow in Shaquille O'Neal's gigantic footsteps.
"Bryant told Howard that he wanted him to come to Los Angeles and help him win two more championships, but not as an understudy. He wanted Howard to be the team's third option behind himself and Pau Gasol, according to a source. Bryant tried to sell Howard on being his 'Tyson Chandler' and made it clear that Los Angeles would be his, but only once Bryant decided he was done playing.
"Howard was turned off by the idea."
I would bet he was. One thing Howard certainly wants is to be the primary player and the superstar, if not paired with another superstar. Peter Vescey of the New York Post asked Kobe directly about it and Kobe was reportedly taken aback and denied the rumor.
Rudolph writes though that the decision appears to be closing down to two options -- New Jersey/Brooklyn and Orlando.
Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld confirms Rudolph's reporting and reports Howard may still end up forcing his way to New Jersey where he believes he will have the input he is not getting in Orlando. Whether that is true or not nobody can say -- or, if they do, they do so as anonymous sources.
The math though changes in the Howard situation if he is truly down to two. Now instead of looking at a 25 percent chance of keeping him (theoretically, at least), you are down to 50 percent. And Orlando seems to like its chances in that 50/50 battle as Steve Kyler of HoopsWorld ponders, drawing a comparison to Tim Duncan's free agency in 2000 (something Magic fans should be familiar with):
That is a lot of information to digest, but they are interesting thoughts. The difference between the Duncan and Howard situation is that Duncan had a championship in his pocket and a strong veteran like David Robinson talking to him the entire time. Also Duncan did not have the same entertainment aspirations that Howard seems to.
But, again, the math changes. Instead of having to convince Dwight Orlando is better than three other locations, you instead go directly head to head with one other place. That makes the sale easier and makes the decision-making a bit easier too for Dwight. The pros and cons of each location come into clearer focus too.
Rich DeVos preached patience in a rare pregame interview. He told Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel (among the media throng in the Magic locker room before Wednesday's game) that it will take a long time to build the kind of bond Orlando has built with Orlando's fans:
"Listen to the fans tonight, cheering," DeVos said. "He's respected. You have to move in life, but the loyalty you develop in a community is always remembered. But if you leave, you don't pick it up in the next town. It's not an add-on, you know, because you lose what you had. Maybe you gain some new [loyalty], but maybe you don't. Maybe the net gain isn't as good you think. We just talk about stuff."
These all hit cords that are in Dwight's consideration.
More importantly though, this rumored development, makes the March 15 decision a bit easier. So long as Dwight leaves the door open to coming back to Orlando the better chance there is that Orlando's wish comes true as he eliminates teams from his list.
Of course, only Dwight really knows where he is at in his decision-making process. Is he down two teams? Probably not entirely.