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Keep Dwight? Not if the Magic could trade him to Chicago

The Orlando Magic would like to seriously engage the Bulls in trade talks for Dwight Howard, but the All-Star center's apparent reluctance to make a long-term commitment to Chicago has all but killed the discussions, league sources told CBSSports.com.

The feeling among rival executives remains that the Magic seem intent on rolling the dice and keeping Howard for the rest of the season, hoping a long playoff run, emotional ties to Orlando and an extra year and $29 million they could offer would persuade him to stay beyond this season. But the move would be highly risky, given that Howard has refused to publicly commit to the Magic -- a stance that sources view as a strong sign that he'd leave as a free agent if he isn't traded.

"He's telling everyone he's leaving," one league source said Sunday.

Magic executives are said to be unimpressed with the assets Howard's three preferred teams could provide in a trade, prompting them to engage in a calculated campaign to expand the field of potential suitors beyond the Nets, Mavericks and Lakers. But the team that can make the strongest case for Orlando to depart from its risky strategy of holding onto Howard are the Bulls, who could offer 7-footer Omer Asik, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer for Howard and Hedo Turkoglu, sources said. The Bulls also could offer a valuable first-round pick from Charlotte -- top-14 protected in this year's draft but but unprotected by 2016.

Such a scenario has gained no traction since Chicago is "not on his list," a person familiar with the situation said of Howard. Without assurances from Howard or his camp that he'd be willing to sign long-term with the Bulls, Chicago executives have exhibited no appetite for trade talks with the Magic. The two teams have spoken, but there's "no type of serious discussions" going on, a person familiar with the situation said.

The Bulls (34-9) also have the best record in the league and are "built for long-term success," said one person familiar with their strategy, making a trade for Howard a non-starter without his blessing. Bulls officials do, according to sources, privately have concerns about whether they have enough to get past Miami in a playoff series, but are content to take a shot at it with the group they have.

Efforts by Orlando to entice other teams that are willing to trade for Howard without a long-term commitment have been seriously hampered by the realization that such a team would only have Howard for about 25 games after Thursday's trade deadline -- not enough time to win him over to a city and team not currently on his list.

Magic CEO Alex Martins, who is spearheading the biggest personnel decision for Orlando since Shaquille O'Neal left as a free agent in 1996, told the Orlando Sentinel Sunday that the team has yet to make a decision on whether to trade him or not by Thursday's 3 p.m. ET deadline.

"We're not at the point where we're ready to answer that question yet," Martins said. "Sometime in the next four days we will be, but we're not at the point where we're ready to answer that question yet."
 
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