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Sources: Magic, Nets 'still plugging away' on Dwight Howard trade

The Magic are in no hurry to trade their All-Star center. (US Presswire)

The Orlando Magic are continuing to explore trade options for Dwight Howard, though the team is in no rush to move the disgruntled superstar despite multiple options remaining in play, CBSSports.com has learned.

The Nets and Magic are "still plugging away" with possible Howard trade scenarios, according to a person familiar with the process. "Everything is in play," said another person connected to the talks, including a possible deal with the Lakers, whose stunning acquisition of Steve Nash Wednesday night may have pushed them onto Howard's radar as a team with whom he'd sign an extension if traded.

Both the Nets and Lakers, however, may need a third team to facilitate the deal to maximize the cap relief Orlando is seeking in any Howard trade. It isn't simply about the players and draft picks the Magic would acquire, but also the ability to relieve their future payroll of burdensome contracts such as those of Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson, sources said.

The Nets' ability to satisfy that goal for Orlando was diminished when Brooklyn sent four expiring contracts to the Hawks for All-Star shooting guard Joe Johnson. The Nets no longer have the cap space to chase Howard as an unrestricted free agent next summer, reducing the pressure on Magic GM Rob Hennigan to trade Howard to his desired destination now. But the Nets did themselves a favor Thursday when it was revealed that the deal Bosnian forward Mirza Teletovic is getting actually will be the taxpayer mid-level for three years, $9.7 million -- not the non-taxpayer mid-level for $15.7 million. Use of the lesser exception avoids the imposition of a hard cap for the Nets at $4 million above the tax line next season, leaving more wiggle room to absorb Howard.

"It's beyond huge," a league source said of the maneuver to alleviate the hard-cap threat.

Did the Nets need the Hawks to believe that they were out of the Howard chase to compel Atlanta to complete the Johnson trade, which theoretically created space for the Hawks to chase Howard as a free agent next summer? If so, it was a nice bit of subterfuge.

The Lakers can still offer the most comparable talent in return for Howard, that being 24-year-old All-Star center Andrew Bynum. But the Lakers face an even steeper challenge than the Nets in their inability to absorb Orlando's bad contracts without a third team. Also, signals out of the Lakers' front office in the wake of the Nash deal indicate that the team is planning to keep its basic core of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Bynum and Nash together.

That being said, if anything the Lakers will need to shed future salary in order to avoid a potentially mammoth luxury tax bill next season, the first of a drastically more punitive tax system. With the addition of Nash and various cap holds, the Lakers are projected to be in the neighborhood of $20 million over the tax line next season -- which under the new rules would cost them a whopping $44 million in tax payments. In addition, for every $1 million in excess of $20 million above the tax threshold, the Lakers would have to pay $3.75 million.

The Magic also are in no hurry to hire a head coach. Though sources confirmed the interview process will begin soon with four initial candidates -- promising assistants Michael Malone and Brian Shaw, along with Quin Snyder and Jacque Vaughn -- other names could be added. It's possible Orlando won't have a head coach in place until the end of July.

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