|The Nets continue to push talks with Orlando for a trade that would bring Howard to Brooklyn. (Getty Images)|
UPDATED 2:55 p.m. ET
While the Orlando Magic continued weighing a multitude of trade options for Dwight Howard, the Brooklyn Nets are poised to move on without the All-Star center if a deal cannot be consummated Wednesday, league sources told CBSSports.com.
With the Nets' longtime pursuit of Howard complicated by the withdrawal of Cleveland as a third team to facilitate the deal, the Magic's ongoing conversations with the Rockets, Lakers and Hawks gained momentum.
"Everything is in play," one league source said of Orlando's options.
Everything includes going through with a differently calibrated deal with the Nets, Howard's preferred destination and the only team with which he has signaled a willingness to sign a long-term deal if traded. But with the Nets working on finalizing a max extension with center Brook Lopez Wednesday, their position has been made clear to the Magic: Trade Howard to Brooklyn by the close of business Wednesday, or the Nets will move forward without him.
"Closure needs to come today," said a league source briefed on the Nets' plans.
Nets GM Billy King was in Los Angeles meeting with Lopez's agent, Arn Tellem, and a source familiar with the talks told CBSSports.com that a deal was "close to getting done." If the Nets were going to have any chance of using Lopez in a sign-and-trade transaction for Howard, they had to beat other suitors who were ready to step in with a max offer sheet for the restricted free-agent center. Once Lopez signed an extension to stay in Brooklyn, he wouldn't be trade-eligible until Jan. 15. If he signed an offer sheet and the Nets matched, he couldn't be traded without his permission for a year.
A person involved in the negotiations told CBSSports.com that the CharlotteBobcats were the team interested in stepping in with a max offer for Lopez. The Nets can offer Lopez a five-year deal if he stays in Brooklyn. If sent to Orlando in a sign-and-trade or signed to an offer sheet by another team, he would only be eligible for a four-year deal.
While the Lopez situation presented a deadline of sorts, it was difficult to imagine Lopez signing an offer sheet with Charlotte for the same or less guaranteed money than he'd get if he just waited for the Nets' pursuit of Howard to play out. Either way, there also were signs Wednesday that the Magic were prepared to let the Brooklyn window close for Howard. Despite the fact that the Nets are the only team Howard has stated he would sign a new deal with if traded, the Magic are said to not be enthralled with any of the trade options presented by the Nets since Cleveland dropped out as a third team able to facilitate Orlando's goal of shedding bad contracts.
With Cleveland out of the equation, the Magic were weighing whether a more robust package of draft picks and cap relief could be achieved by proceeding with discussions long under way with the Rockets and Lakers.
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A league source said Magic officials were "still working through options" Wednesday after the moratorium on signings and trades was lifted at 12:01 a.m. ET, making it possible for deals to be officially consummated. The 10-day negotiating period shifted into official mode once the NBA and the players' association agreed on the revenue, salary cap and luxury tax figures for the coming season. As expected, the salary cap and tax line will hold constant at $58.044 million and $70.307 million, respectively.
There are two clear avenues in front of the Magic when it comes to the Rockets and Lakers. One would entail sending Howard to either team in a two-team trade, with Andrew Bynum the key piece being offered by the Lakers -- though there are reservations on both ends about whether a long-term commitment could be achieved with either player in such a scenario. The Lakers also lack the ability to absorb significant salary beyond Howard's in a two-team deal and don't have access to draft picks that would satisfy Orlando's rebuilding desires.
As an alternative, the Rockets have signaled a willingness to receive Bynum in a deal that would send Howard to the Lakers. The key impediment in the way of such an arrangement would be whether Howard would relax his insistence that the Nets are the only team he would commit to long term in a trade. In that way, the Howard trade saga is increasingly mirroring the deal that took many twists and turns before ultimately sending Carmelo Anthony from Denver to the Knicks in February 2011.
Neither Bynum nor his agent, David Lee, has been contacted to gauge the All-Star center's desire to sign a long-term deal if traded, a league source said Wednesday. On Tuesday, the Lakers assured Bynum's camp that "nothing's happening" on the trade front, the person said.
Although the Lakers' acquisition of Steve Nash has made the Lakers instantly more appealing to Howard, sources say the pairing of the 38-year-old point guard with 33-year-old Kobe Bryant hasn't sold Howard that joining the Lakers would provide more than a fleeting window to win a title. Howard has long preferred joining 28-year-old point guard Deron Williams with the Nets, who also have added All-Star Joe Johnson to the mix in a trade with Atlanta.
But the aggressiveness of the Rockets, who have spent two years trying to parlay their picks, assets and cap space into a superstar, may have changed the landscape for Howard. Coincidentally, the Nets' success in trading for Williams against his will and subsequently persuading him to commit with a five-year, $98.75 million contract might have emboldened the Rockets' long-held belief that they could convince a top talent like Howard or Bynum to stay once they spent a year with the organization.
The Magic are intently focused on a package of assets for Howard that includes multiple first-round picks, a player or two and maximum cap relief to commence a ground-up rebuilding process under new general manager Rob Hennigan, who comes from the long-term planning tree of the Spurs and Thunder. Orlando would have achieved many of those goals in a four-team trade that took shape over the weekend in which Cleveland would have absorbed Kris Humphries in a sign-and-trade and the Clippers would have taken MarShon Brooks from the Nets. The deal would have yielded four first-round picks for the Magic along with Lopez and the divesting of Jason Richardson's $18.6 million over the next three seasons.
But that scenario came undone Monday, according to a person involved in the process, when the Cavaliers were eliminated as a facilitating trade partner. The Humphries-to-Cleveland aspect of the deal, which created more savings for the Magic, was complicated by the necessity for Humphries -- an unrestricted free agent -- to accept a one-year guarantee from the Cavs in the process.
But another culprit in torpedoing the four-team arrangement may have been the Magic deciding they wanted to receive all the first-round picks exchanged in the deal, a league source said. By taking Cleveland out of the scenario, the Magic could receive four first-round picks from the Nets and one from the Clippers in exchange for Brooks, a promising shooting guard, going to L.A. That and other permutations of a deal that would send Howard to his desired landing spot in Brooklyn were still alive Wednesday, though time was running out.
Despite the changing dynamics, the Magic are projecting confidence that Howard will be traded sooner rather than later. According to people in contact with the Magic front office, there is no appetite for the Howard saga to linger into next week and beyond.
The Clippers were standing by waiting to hear if their services would be needed to complete the deal with Brooklyn, which would create another super team in a major NBA market by pairing Howard with Williams, Johnson and Gerald Wallace.
If the trade to Brooklyn ultimately goes through, Howard would become the ninth member of the 12-player 2008 U.S. Olympic team to play in New York, Los Angeles or Miami. Seven members of this summer's U.S. Olympic squad call one of those cities their NBA home.
The Magic have continued dialogue with other teams throughout the process, including the Atlanta Hawks, although little is known about the scenarios in play between Orlando and Atlanta. A person familiar with the Hawks' planning said the organization was unclear about where the Magic stood in their pursuit of a Howard deal. Hawks GM Danny Ferry was able to unload Johnson's immense contract to the Nets and send previous draft mistake Marvin Williams to Utah, clearing massive cap space to chase free agents next summer. Howard, an Atlanta native who is a close friend and former AAU teammate of Josh Smith, would be chief among them if somehow he weren't traded by then.
With players and other assets going in and out of various trade scenarios between the Magic and Nets, the teams initiated medical reviews for Howard (back) and Lopez (foot), respectively. Pending a positive review of Lopez's foot injury by Orlando's medical staff, the Magic have grown comfortable with Lopez being the key veteran player coming back in a Howard trade, sources said. Lopez would command at least $10 million a year in a sign-and-trade as part of the deal.
In fact, over the weekend, another team expressed interest in Lopez and stood ready to offer a package of draft picks for him in the event Orlando didn't want him, league sources told CBSSports.com. That team "couldn't get in the game," one of the sources said, a strong indication that the Magic "weren't selling" Lopez in the deal.
A possible replacement for Cleveland as the third team to facilitate the Brooklyn deal, Charlotte, was "not in the mix," a league source said Tuesday. "They never were," said another.
Though everything else sure seemed to be.