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Magic getting close to Dwight decision; Nets in lead

The Orlando Magic are coming to grips with the reality that they will have to trade Dwight Howard before Thursday's 3 p.m. ET deadline, and Howard's preferred team -- the Nets -- are emerging as the most likely trade partner, league sources told CBSSports.com.

Magic GM Otis Smith was taking calls Tuesday and trying to gage what the best offer will be in a potential Howard deal. No final decision has been made, and potential trade partners have not been apprised of what the Magic ultimately will do, sources said.

The Rockets remained the most serious so-called "rental" team pursuing Howard and hoping to persuade him to commit to them, although numerous teams were circling with offers and making their due diligence calls about the premier center in the NBA. Given the risk of Howard leaving as a free agent after a trade, it would be even more risky for a new team to give up assets for Howard than it would be for Orlando to dare him to walk this summer.

Nonetheless, Warriors owner Joe Lacob shot down a potential trade that would've sent Andrew Bogut from Milwaukee to Golden State and Monta Ellis to Orlando, sources told CBSSports.com Tuesday. The scenario was part of the Magic's efforts to acquire a top-flight talent in the hopes that Howard would stay, but Lacob wanted to preserve his own slim chances of getting Howard rather than help Orlando keep him.

Later Tuesday, the Warriors and Bucks opened the trade deadline floodgates when they agreed in principle to a deal sending Bogut and Stephen Jackson from Milwaukee to Golden State for Ellis, Ekpe Udoh and Kwame Brown, league sources confirmed to CBSSports.com.

UPDATE: After posting 24 points and 25 rebounds in a 104-98 overtime victory over Miami Tuesday night -- Orlando's second victory in three games against the Heat this season -- Howard told reporters he's informed Magic management he wants to finish the season in Orlando. The Magic, Howard said after the game, must now "roll the dice" that he'll opt out and return to Orlando as a free agent.

"I told those guys and I've been telling them for the past two or three weeks now that I'm going to stay and finish the season," Howard said.

That decision, of course, is not his. It's the Magic's. And Howard's latest self-unaware moment was a stunning testimony to what numerous league sources believe has been his self-serving motive all along: To get to Brooklyn with Deron Williams as a free agent, so his new team won't deplete its assets trading for him. The Magic -- Smith, CEO Alex Martins and 86-year-old owner Rich DeVos -- had less than 40 precarious hours after Howard's comments to decide whether to roll those dice.

After smiling through All-Star weekend in his hometown and refusing to discuss his future, Howard used the occasion of his last home game before the trade deadline to prey on management's vulnerabilty. If the Magic ignore Howard's plea to let him finish the season, they'll face a certain fan backlash. After Howard and Magic executives had promised each other to keep their conversations private, some team executives were privately disgusted with his public comments Tuesday night.

"We will do what is in the best interest of the Magic organization, its ownership and its fans," Martins told the Orlando Sentinel Tuesday night.

All signs continue to point to Howard, 26, wanting to land in Brooklyn next season with Williams. "I think he wants that big market," said a person apprised of Howard's plans. Teams inquiring about Howard in recent days have been told, yet again, that his No. 1 choice is the Nets, who will open a new arena in Brooklyn next season.

In terms of global marketing and exposure, Howard is said to have been convinced by his representation that "there's no place in the world he can do it like New York," according to a person briefed on his strategy. Part of the end game would be a contract renewal with Adidas -- a deal that, if Howard were in the New York market, is expected to exceed the approximately $200 million arrangement Derrick Rose recently signed with the shoe company.

Howard's desire to land in Brooklyn defies the logic of several rival general managers and at least one prominent agent who continue to believe that the Dallas Mavericks should not be ruled out as a landing spot for both Howard and Williams after July 1. The Mavs would have to slash their payroll to the bone, ridding themselves of Brendan Haywood, Shawn Marion, Lamar Odom and Vince Carter in order to come close to enough room to sign two max players. But as one prominent agent said of Mavs owner Mark Cuban: "He's a smart guy. He'll figure it out."

The Lakers were the third team that Howard's agent, Dan Fegan of Lagadere Unlimited, was given permission to speak with about a trade before the season. They remain on the periphery and shouldn't be ruled out from re-entering the fray over the next 48 hours, sources said.

Still, it appears that the only thing Howard wants more than Brooklyn is the chance to go there as a free agent without the team giving up assets to acquire him. The Nets likely would surrender a package centered around 7-footer Brook Lopez, promising rookie MarShon Brooks and some filler to account for taking on the contract of Magic swingman Hedo Turkoglu, who is guaranteed $18 million over the next two seasons. The Nets have two first-round picks to offer -- their own, and Houston's, which is top-14 protected in each of the next five drafts.

Meanwhile, the Nets are aggressively exploring potential payroll-shedding deals in the event the Magic hang onto Howard and New Jersey can get him as a free agent in July. A fairly minor deal for an expiring contract would free up enough room to pair Howard with Williams and re-sign Lopez, who is set to become a restricted free agent July 1.




Before joining CBSSports.com, Ken Berger covered the NBA for Newsday. The Long Island, N.Y., native has also worked for the Associated Press and can be seen on SportsNet New York. Catch Ken every Saturday, when he hosts Eye on Basketball from 6-8 p.m. ET on cbssportsradio.com
 
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