It is March 1. Every player who signed during the offseason is on the table. The Magic and the rest of the NBA are now serious about getting deals done before the March 15 deadline.
Orlando is in a strange spot as both buyer and seller. What seems clear early on is that: 1) nothing has changed with the Dwight Howard trade front and that his trade request stands; 2) the Magic still believe they can persuade Howard to remain in Orlando by making moves or possibly just showing internal improvement; 3) Howard is reportedly open to declining his early termination option to keep his opportunities open for when he does hit free agency (and maintaining all the Bird Rights for the maximum salary); and 4) the Magic have a very short window to make a franchise-altering move.
There is going to be a lot of work to do for Otis Smith and the Magic in the next two weeks. There will be a lot more uncertainty than there was in the first half of the season as whispers and rumors fly around the Amway Center.
All-Star Weekend was not without its own batch of Dwight Howard rumors as two three-team trades emerged that would send Howard to the Lakers. Magic executives vehemently denied both of those deals. It is also becoming apparent that Dwight Howard is not as open minded to joining the Lakers as he once might have been -- whether that is concern for his role with the team or his reluctance to repeat Shaquille O'Neal's exit to the West Coast.
By all accounts and reports, including discussions I had with other reporters at All-Star Weekend, Howard will not sign a long-term extension with the Lakers.
For Orlando, that changes the math. It is easier to compete with one or two other cities in recruiting than the three the Magic were going up against. If they believe that Dwight Howard has an inkling to stay, it might make sense to wait him out and see where the chips fall this summer.
That does not mean the Magic will sit on their hands. They want to be active and do some of the things Howard told them he wants them to do if they are to continue to have a business relationship moving forward.
Jarrod Rudolph of RealGM was the first to drop both reports on the Magic's plans before the trade deadline. He said Sunday that Otis Smith will "aggressively" pursue Steve Nash before the trade deadline. He also reported Wednesday that the Magic have begun initial inquiries with Golden State about possibly pairing up Monta Ellis in Orlando with Howard. Ellis, of course, was on the reported list of players Howard had requested the Magic go after.
These are certain to be the first of many rumors involving the Magic. With the franchise at the crossroads and desperate to keep Dwight Howard in a Magic uniform, the franchise seems desperate to the point of making any deal that would jump start a rebuilding process and restore hope of an immediate turnaround and return to championship form.
Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld reported that the Magic have involved Howard in the decision making (h/t Evan Dunlap of Orlando Pinstriped Post), suggesting they have had the sit-down meeting with Howard to see where he stands and like what they heard. Maybe they have not though and maybe the rumors will turn back to Howard rather than the pieces around him.
Again, there will be a lot of this noise going back and forth in the next couple weeks.
That turns to the next question, though: What would it take for Orlando to acquire Ellis or Nash or some other big-name player?
The Magic likely are looking to get rid of the starter Ellis or Nash would replace (Jameer Nelson or Jason Richardson) and then move one of the team's larger contracts -- such as Hedo Turkoglu (owed $23 million in the next two years), Glen Davis (owed $19 million over the next three years), Jason Richardson (owed $18 million over the next three years) or Chris Duhon (owed about $7 million over the next two years).
Someone has to be willing to take on one of those players and Orlando will probably have to give up Ryan Anderson or J.J. Redick, two young players with very bright futures, to make this deal happen. The Magic might also have to take on another bad contract in the deal -- such as Golden State's Andris Biedrins ($18 million over the next two years) or David Lee (about $55 million over the next four years) or Phoenix's Channing Frye ($18 million over the next three).
Then there is the little matter of the Warriors' desire to bring in Dwight Howard themselves. Marcus Thompson of the Contra Costa Times reports that "Golden State is NOT interested in trading Monta Ellis to Orlando unless the trade would involve Dwight Howard."
Discussions are pretty exploratory at the moment. That reluctance might force Orlando to agree to accept Lee's large contract. Golden State also openly is looking for a post player and a center to help anchor Mark Jackson's defense. Orlando really does not have that to offer at the moment.
Discussions with Phoenix likely will encounter the same problems. Phoenix will be unwilling to take back Jason Richardson or Hedo Turkoglu, you would think. Much like Golden State, it seems Phoenix would like to get back Anderson or Redick and unload one of its bad contracts. To give you an idea of what it would take to bring in Nash, Seth Pollack of Bright Side of the Sun suggests a Jameer Nelson, Ryan Anderson and J.J. Redick package for Steve Nash, Channing Frye and Josh Childress, and he says there might be a conversation starter. I do not feel Orlando would be willing to do this.
You can already see the difficulty in formulating this kind of a deal. Likely the Magic would have to find a way to get a third team involved to fill in some of the gaps and shortcomings in the Magic's available assets.
Making these rumored deals happen are a lot easier said than done at this point.
They will of course, continue to race and spread like wildfire until the deadline finally passes on March 15.