Nets-Magic Preview


The New Jersey Nets acquired a front-line player at Thursday's trade deadline, though not the one most thought it would be.

Now they'll get another up-close look at the one that got away.

After months of back-and-forth deliberation, Dwight Howard has decided to stay with the Orlando Magic - at least through next season - and his quest for a championship continues when Orlando seeks its 10th straight win over visiting New Jersey on Friday night.

While Magic executives were weighing the team's options after Howard scored 22 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a 122-111 loss at San Antonio on Wednesday, the face of the franchise decided he was best suited to remain with the team that drafted him No. 1 overall out of high school in 2004.

Howard signed a waiver in the early morning hours Thursday, taking away his right to opt out of his contract following this season.

It took longer than the Magic may have wanted, but Howard will be under contract through the 2012-13 season.

"I'm glad this is finally over," Howard said. "It's not as easy as some people think. It's been very hard. We're talking a career-changing event. Most people don't see that.

"I'm very loyal and I've always put loyalty above anything."

After watching Shaquille O'Neal sign with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1996 without any compensation, Orlando wasn't about to let another star player leave without getting something in return.

"It was real," general manager Otis Smith said of the possibility of trading Howard. "We weren't rolling the dice."

There won't be any more questions regarding Howard's status - much to the delight of coach Stan Van Gundy - and the perennial All-Star just wants to focus on the task at hand.

"Now we can get back to playing basketball and having some peace and trying to win a championship," Howard said. "I feel like we have a chance to win and I didn't feel like either one of us (he or the organization) should give that up."

The last time the Magic (28-16) faced the Nets, Howard had 20 points and 17 rebounds in a 108-91 victory Feb. 22, though the New Jersey fans continuously chanted his name due to Howard reportedly listing the Nets as one of his preferred destinations in his preseason trade demand.

Howard is likely to receive a loud ovation when he's announced in Orlando in this contest, and the Nets (15-29) now can only wonder what might have been.

With Howard off the table, New Jersey traded Mehmet Okur's expiring contract, Shawne Williams and a protected first-round draft pick to Portland for swingman Gerald Wallace on Thursday.

"We were involved in a lot of things, some things didn't work out, but the thing we did, did," general manager Billy King said. "I am always one who has the glass half full. We're moving on. We have a starting small forward who is a great fit for us, and that's all I can focus on."

The trade may not be enough to keep star point guard Deron Williams from opting out of his contract following the season, but Wallace provides another threat at both ends of the court as the Nets attempt to salvage what's left of their season.

Wallace is averaging 13.3 points and 6.6 rebounds and also is known as a stingy defender and hard worker. It's unclear if he'll be in uniform for this matchup.

Williams missed his third straight game with a strained left calf Wednesday, but Gerald Green - playing on his second 10-day contract - scored 26 points off the bench in a 98-84 victory over Toronto.

Kris Humphries had 16 points and a career-high 21 rebounds as New Jersey ended a two-game skid. Brook Lopez also missed his sixth straight game with a sprained right ankle.

"With Deron out and Brook out, there is a huge void in every category when those two guys miss," Humphries said. "It's not just me though. Gerald has come in on a 10-day and, look it up, I don't know if anybody has played that well ever. He is playing great. We are all picking up the slack."

New Jersey has lost seven straight meetings in Orlando, including 94-78 on Dec. 29 when Howard scored 16 points and grabbed 24 rebounds.