In the span of a few hours, the ongoing saga of Dwight Howard's future in Orlando became even more muddled.
Howard and the Magic visit the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday, the final night before the league's trade deadline.
Tuesday afternoon it seemed Howard was headed out of Orlando, with reports indicating he wanted to be traded to one of a select few teams, while according to an ESPN.com story, Magic ownership had offered Howard the chance to decide the fates of coach Stan Van Gundy and general manager Otis Smith if he signed a contract extension.
"If anybody thinks I care about that, I really don't give a damn about being fired," Van Gundy said Tuesday before his team's game against Miami. "That doesn't concern me in the least. ... If they want to fire me to please somebody, fire me."
Reversing course following the Magic's 104-98 overtime victory over the Heat - the team's fifth win in six games - Howard told reporters he wants to stay in Orlando through the rest of the season. He said he's been telling team officials as much for the past two or three weeks.
"I told them I feel we have a great opportunity to win and I told them that I want to be here and I want to bring a championship here," he said. "I told them they've got to give me that chance. They didn't trade me at the beginning of the season and I told them I'd go out and play as hard as I could every night to put our team in a position to win."
The Magic (28-15) - in third place in the Eastern Conference, four games behind Miami - risk walking away with nothing if Howard decides to opt out of his contract this summer. They could also choose to add talent to try to sway his decision.
"I feel they have to roll their dice," Howard said of team management. "It might be tough, but I feel like we have a great opportunity. They've got to roll it."
Howard's strong play has helped Orlando win three straight against fellow members of the East's top five. He had 29 points in a victory at Chicago last week and 30 on 11-of-14 shooting Sunday against Indiana.
He posted 24 points and 25 rebounds against the Heat, the eighth 20-20 game of the season for Howard and the 40th of his career.
San Antonio (27-13) has far fewer distractions besides its own inconsistent play. It has alternated wins and losses in eight contests since its 11-game winning streak.
The Spurs hope to end that pattern after a 112-97 win over Washington on Monday.
Tony Parker scored 31 points after missing the previous game with a strained hamstring and San Antonio shot 54.0 percent while taking advantage of another struggling East opponent.
The Spurs' last three wins have come against Washington, New York and Charlotte - all teams with losing records. Their last three losses were against the Los Angeles Clippers, Denver and Chicago.
San Antonio will try to turn that around during a difficult stretch of five straight against playoff contenders, including two against Dallas.
It could be even more difficult if Manu Ginobili is unable to go because of a hip flexor injury, suffered late in Monday's game. Ginobili has missed 22 games with a broken bone in his left hand and five more with an oblique strain.
Richard Jefferson downplayed the severity of Ginobili's latest injury.
"There's no point in him fighting through an injury or fighting through some soreness or tightness," Jefferson said Tuesday. "If we were in the playoffs, would Manu play? Yes."
Ginobili sat out San Antonio's 85-83 overtime win at Orlando on Jan. 18. Parker scored 16 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. Howard had 24 points and 25 rebounds.
Orlando could be without Jason Richardson, who missed a second straight game Tuesday with a sprained left ankle.
- Dwight Howard
- San Antonio Spurs
- San Antonio
- Stan Van Gundy