ORLANDO, Fla. – For all of his jokes and wisecracks, Dwight Howard can't help but feel awkward about his position during All-Star weekend. He's tasked with playing host to the NBA's midseason celebration as the face of the Orlando Magic – and yet he's not sure he'll be wearing a Magic in uniform next season or even next month.
Howard finds himself as the center of attention during All-Star weekend not so much because the game is in his home city, but because he asked for a trade from the Magic in the offseason. The Magic allowed Howard's representatives to negotiate with three teams of his request – the New Jersey Nets, Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks – before tabling trade talks at the start of the season. Now, with the league's March 15 trade deadline looming, Howard and his agent, Dan Fegan, have shown little interest recently in pushing for a deal, sources said, increasingly the likelihood the Magic will keep their star center for the duration of the season.
Howard has tried to keep the focus on All-Star weekend, but that's done little to quell speculation about his future.
"People don’t understand it because they are not the ones who have to go through it," Howard said. "They only see it from one side. But it is tough. It’s been tough all year. But that’s not a point of discussion for me, especially for me this weekend.
“I just want to have fun. This is All-Star weekend, it’s in Orlando and let’s forget about that stuff for a couple days and let’s focus on what’s here. … So instead of worrying about trades and all this stuff, let’s worry about what’s going on."
When Howard initially asked for a trade, he complained the Magic hadn’t done enough to make themselves championship contenders. Orlando is 22-13 this season, in fifth place in the Eastern Conference after winning seven of their past 10 games.
Howard declined comment on what the Magic need to do to improve their roster, saying only that the team “hasn’t hit our peak so we have a great opportunity just like any team in the NBA.” He also said his teammates understand why he pushed for a trade.
“I can’t do anything but help support him,” Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said. “We haven’t talked about it as a team. We just try to block it out and play as hard as we can. I’ve been supportive. We’ve had talks about certain things that have gone well.
“It’s just every day when we step on the court and we have to play, afterward when we talk to the media, we have to talk about [Howard's future]. No matter what the outcome was in the game, they want to know about this."
Howard has faced constant reminders during All-Star weekend about what could await him if he leaves the Magic. The Nets thought they were close to acquiring Howard in the preseason to pair him with All-Star guard Deron Williams before talks broke down. Like Howard, Williams will become a free agent after the season, and the Nets are still hopeful of signing both him and Howard for next season's move to Brooklyn. The Nets, however, aren't close to trading for Howard before the March 15 deadline, one league source said.
“We’ll see what happens," Williams said. "Nothing is going on right now from what I understand."
“Who wouldn’t want to play with Dwight Howard? He’s a great player," Rose said. "But I’m OK with the teammates I have right now."
The Lakers haven't had substantive conversations with the Magic since the offseason. Orlando officials also are wary of giving up Howard for Lakers All-Star center Andrew Bynum given Bynum's past injury problems. Bynum, who doesn’t think either he or forward Pau Gasol will be dealt before the deadline, has yearned for a bigger role in the Lakers’ offense – something he could get with the Magic.
“I might be a more prolific scorer for sure,” Bynum said.
For now, the Magic don't appear in a rush to trade Howard. They lost Shaquille O'Neal 16 years ago, and remain hopeful they can still convince Howard to stay.
“We continue to have dialogue with Dwight about continuing his career in Orlando,” Magic CEO Alex Martins said. “Dwight and our goals are aligned in the fact that we both want to win a championship.”
Yahoo! Sports’ NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski contributed to this story.
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