For everything Dwight Howard has told the Orlando Magic management about bringing him a stronger supporting cast, about the possibility that he could still sign an extension, it has turned into a complete ruse – a misdirection play on his eventual signing with the Brooklyn-bound New Jersey Nets, league sources told Yahoo! Sports.
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.
Howard told reporters after the Magic's overtime victory over the Miami Heat that he's told team officials he hopes to stay in Orlando through the end of the season. Yet he did not commit to remaining with the franchise for the long-term, only adding credence to what league sources said he intends to do: leave for the Nets once he becomes a free agent.
"I told them that I want to finish this season out and give our team, fans hope for the future," Howard told reporters. "I feel [the Magic] have to roll the dice."
Howard is privately telling people the acquisition of an All-Star player and more complementary players could sway him to stay, league sources told Y! Sports' Marc Spears, but that scenario is far-fetched given the limited appeal of Orlando's trade assets. A proposed three-way trade between the Magic, Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks never materialized when the Bucks sent Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson to Golden State on Tuesday for Monta Ellis.
Martins has been talking directly with Howard and is going along with ownership's desire to keep the franchise center for the remainder of the season, sources said. From a business perspective, it made sense for Martins to hold onto Howard until the last possible moment. He still sells tickets, sponsorships and, yes, banks victories that will get the Magic into the playoffs even if Howard is traded by Thursday. Nevertheless, there's no misunderstanding from Howard's camp that they will eventually sign with the Nets at the July 1 start of free agency, sources said.
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 has improved the franchise's relationship with Howard, multiple sources told Yahoo! Sports. But as one source talking to Martins and Howard said: "That's great, but [Dwight's] still going to leave."
Said another official, who has been involved in deal talks with Orlando, New Jersey and the agents in the process: "Dwight is going to [expletive] them, and that will be especially true if he doesn't even ask for the sign-and-trade on July 1, because he wants Brooklyn to keep assets."
Why would Howard push for a trade now? So the Nets have to give up Brook Lopez and draft picks? For Howard, he can finish the season with the Magic, make the playoffs and leave on July 1 for a contract with the Nets, who can offer him a four-year, $81 million deal – about $28 million less than what the Magic can give him in a fifth year. Adidas wants him in a major market – New York or Los Angeles – and this scenario promises him the highest possible value on his upcoming renegotiation on his shoe deal.
Orlando has few assets that teams want but is still the team that can escalate payroll and absorb talent. After taking on millions of dollars more in future money on the salary cap in the Gilbert Arenas trade a season ago, Martins is threatening to do it again at the deadline. For all the talk of a potential Monta Ellis trade to the Magic, the Golden State Warriors have been adamant they won't make any deal with Orlando that doesn't bring Howard back as a rental for the rest of the season.
For the first time on Tuesday, Van Gundy seemed to publicly push back on upper management's undermining of his GM and himself. "Sometimes, I feel like our coaching staff are the only people in Orlando who care about the results of games," Van Gundy told reporters.
If Orlando goes to New Jersey before the trade deadline searching for a multi-team deal, the Nets are confident enough they'll sign Howard on July 1 that they could reject any proposal that forces them to give up too many assets.
The New Jersey Nets are setting into a motion a plan to sign Howard, re-sign Deron Williams and keep restricted free agent Brook Lopez on an approximate $10 million annual salary, sources said. The Nets are working on several ways to shed several more million dollars of future payroll that will give them the flexibility to re-sign Lopez. The Nets and Charlotte Bobcats have had extensive talks on a deal that would send Boris Diaw's expiring contract to New Jersey for several players and a first-round pick, sources said. The Nets could clear about $6.5 million in cap room with the trade.
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