The speculation over the future of center Dwight Howard will hang over the Magic this season like a big dark cloud until there is some resolution, which might not come for months.
The team's best player also has become a huge distraction and a threat to any harmony this season.
Both Howard and the Orlando Magic continue to waffle over his future, leaving teammates, fans and the rest of league wondering whose uniform he will wear at the NBA All-Star Game that will be held in Orlando in February.
Howard can become a free agent after the season, which has led to rampant speculation over what the Magic will do before then.
Howard opened training camp by demanding a trade now so he can maximize his next contract value next summer. Two days later, he softened his stance, saying the Magic could change his mind by making the right personnel moves around him. Then on Sept. 15, he said his trade demand had not changed.
"It still stands," he said. "There is no back and forth."
Magic general manager Otis Smith repeatedly has said he wants to re-sign Howard this summer, but also has explored trading him, unwilling to lose him this summer without being compensated. Despite reports to the contrary, Smith will continue listening to offers for Howard in case he can't convince him to stay.
"I don't think there's anything out there (in trade) on the table that won't be on the table three months from now (at the trade deadline)," Smith said. "We're still exploring all opportunities. We're going to continue to look and explore. Our first opportunity is to keep him in a Magic uniform."
Howard's unhappiness stems from the Magic's first-round ouster from the playoffs last spring and the trouble Smith has had putting a better supporting cast around him. He said he wants more say in personnel moves. Smith, though, said Howard has been consulted on most every move the team has made in the last couple years.
Head Coach -- Stan Van Gundy, 8th year overall, 5th with Magic (222-106). Assistants -- Brendan Malone, Patrick Ewing, Steve Clifford, Bob Beyer, Ahmad Ajami, Mark Price.
LAST SEASON, REMEMBERED: 52-30 (2nd in Southeast Division), losing in the first round of the playoffs to the Atlanta Hawks.
THIS SEASON, PREDICTED: 38-24 (2nd in Southeast Division), first-round playoff loss.
POSSIBLE CHANGES, PREDICTED: Almost anything could happen, but the one that will rock the league will be Dwight Howard being dealt just before the trade deadline in March. The Magic will win games early, but the uncertainty over Howard will cause problems in the locker room. Much to their ire, Howard will stick with his trade demand and the Magic will be bullied into moving him and unable to get equal value in a trade. The only thing close would be getting LeBron James from Miami or Kevin Durant from Oklahoma City, and that won't be happening. The Magic will try and pry away Deron Williams from New Jersey, but the Nets won't budge because they want to sign Howard this summer.
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