The trade deadline is Thursday and rumors continue to fly even with Monta Ellis and Andrew Bogut off the table in that deal involving Golden State and Milwaukee. It seems Orlando is running out of potential options to pair a star with Dwight Howard and convince him at least to decline his early termination option and stay another year.
After his masterful, 24-point, 27-rebound performance in the overtime win against the Heat, Dwight Howard pulled back on his "company line" and told the media he has backed off his trade request, if not his ultimate desire to test free agency and leave the Magic in limbo.
"I've been telling those guys [in the Magic front office], and I've been telling them for the past two or three weeks now, that I want to stay and finish the season," Howard said (h/t Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel). "I told them I feel we've got a great opportunity to win and I told them that I want to be here and I want to bring a championship here. And I told them they've got to give me that chance."
Howard now is asking the Magic to "roll the dice" in his words without getting anything in return, a huge risk if Howard were to leave the franchise outright during the summer without getting anything of value in return -- like say a promise to decline his early termination option and stay with the team another year, which would be a huge victory for the franchise.
There is no doubt that Orlando is a good team now. When playing at their best -- and Howard is right, the team is playing at a much more consistent and high level this past week -- Orlando is absolutely deserving of the fifth best record in the league and a now comfortable lead for the third best record in the East. This was a big week for the Magic with games against the Bulls, Pacers and Heat all in a row. This week was a chance to catch up to the East leaders and seperate themselves from the bottom of the playoff picture.
With three straight wins -- at Chicago and at home against Indiana and Miami -- and more tough games to prove itself coming up (at San Antonio on Wednesday and then a trip to Miami during the weekend before hosting Chicago), Orlando is proving it is still at the top of the East. Of course, the regular season is different from the Playoffs. And nobody on the Magic has shown they can play at the high level they did last night on every night.
This team still feels a bit uneasy. And the same can be said for Dwight's about face.
The Nets are emerging as Dwight's favored location for free agency. And, if you believe Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Dwight Howard has already decided Brooklyn is where he wants to be and that he is leading the Magic on to make sure they do not gut the Nets of assets -- like Brook Lopez and MarShon Brooks. New Jersey will have the cap room to sign Howard outright in the summer.
"With the combination of Howard’s disdain for confrontation, desire to be liked and a pragmatic belief that a trade is no longer in his best long-term interests, Howard has created an illusion with the Magic that there are factors that could cause him to sign an extension with the team.
"'Dwight's gone, and [Magic CEO] Alex Martins is the only person who doesn't believe that,' a league source with knowledge of Howard's intentions told Yahoo! Sports."
Martins has been the main point man in the organization talking to Dwight. And it is clear the Magic want to do whatever they can to keep him in a Magic uniform. Wojnarowski reports though that Otis Smith and Stan Van Gundy want the whole situation over with and want a deal:
"Magic general manager Otis Smith and coach Stan Van Gundy have known Howard the longest. They know he will leave them and they want a deal done prior to Thursday's 3 p.m. ET trade deadline. The gulf between Martins and his basketball operations staff has become vast, full of mistrust and animosity. 'Otis and Stan want the circus to end,' one source close to them said. 'They want a deal.'"
Martins, for his part continues to keep to the company line -- which is keeping Dwight Howard. Various reports say that the DeVos family is hesitant to part with Dwight. Marc Stein and Chris Broussard reported that Rich DeVos considers Dwight "like a son" and does not want to see the relationship end, let alone Howard is one of the best players in the league.
A report late Monday/early Tuesday from Marc Stein and Chris Broussard shed some light into the Magic's thinking. It appears Orlando wants to spend Tuesday and Wednesday trying to acquire the second star Dwight Howard seems to require in order for him to stay (at least for next year). If the team cannot get a deal Wednesday, Stein and Broussard report that the Magic will spend the final 24 hours before the trade deadline weighing and exploring options to trade Dwight Howard.
From this report it is clear what Orlando wants.
Goal No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 is to keep Dwight Howard. Everything else is secondary.
That apparently includes the future of Stan Van Gundy and Otis Smith. Ric Bucher adds that Magic have promised Howard they would add a quality player before the trade deadline and that "Howard can decide the fate of both GM Otis Smith and coach Stan Van Gundy at the end of the season if he signs an extension."
If true, those are some pretty weighty promises and ones that could prove difficult both to keep and to live up to. Alex Martins flatly denied these rumors to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. It would be a little ridiculous to give Howard that much power to keep him.
It is no secret that Howard has had some problems with Stan Van Gundy in the past and the relationship between Howard and Otis Smith has not been so rosy lately. If the Magic are trying to do everything they can to keep Dwight Howard, this kind of power quite possibly could be on the table.
But it also shows how desperate the Magic are in this situation. And maybe how delusional too that Howard is going to give the Magic a fair shake in free agency.
"I still believe there is a big piece of him that wants to be here," Martins said Tuesday night to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. "Now, does that equate to him being here? I'm not so sure. But I still believe there’s a big piece of him that wants to be here. But coming down to the deadline, we're just going to have to make the best decision for the organization based on what we know at the time."
It seems that Stein and Broussard's report might be a little extreme and serving some agenda, as Jarrod Rudolph of RealGM said on Magic DriveTime on Tuesday before the game. What that agenda is and which side said it could be anyone's guess.
What is clear is that there is still a disconnect within the Magic organization and between the organization and Dwight. For now, the Magic seem a little more determined to evaluate Howard's trade value and what they can get now that Ellis is off the market and there seems to be no good move to make. Dwight's about face comes at the absolute wrong time for this team and its future plans.
Howard controls the Magic right now.
Really, he has all season. And that is not a good position to be in.
Even if he stays, it appears he will have a lot of power to guide the future of the franchise. And that is not necessarily the best thing. Most of us would agree Howar dand the Magic have greatly benefited from Stan Van Gundy's presence. Keeping Dwight Howard might be a great goal and might be worth losing Van Gundy, but doing so at Howard's bequest could be conceding too much power.
To me, if Howard is going to give Orlando a fair chance to resign him this summer and he is really down to New Jersey and Orlando, the math says take the risk because you have a 50/50 shot. If it is any less than that, it is becoming clearer that Orlando cannot risk it and have to trade him to get some value and begin rebuilding.
Again, Orlando is in a really bad position. They cannot win. And Howard has complete control.