source: Marc Stein and Chris Broussard | ESPN.com
The Orlando Magic's strategy for the moment on Dwight Howard, according to sources close to the process, calls for spending the next 48 hours or so making one last hard push to acquire the sort of difference-maker that would encourage Howard to commit his long-term future to the team that drafted him in 2004.
If no newcomer is acquired by Wednesday, sources said, Magic officials plan to spend the final 24 hours before Thursday's 3 p.m. deadline evaluating all of their trade options and then deciding Thursday whether to stick to their long-standing desire to roll the dice and keep Howard beyond the deadline or make the best available trade.
As part of this process, one source said, Orlando will continue to seek a "definitive answer" from Howard about his future and hold out hope that he'd at least agree to exercise the option for next season on his current contract to give their marriage at least one more year. But Howard, according to associates, is determined to become a free agent in July in order to have complete control of his future and get to one of the top two destinations on his wish list: New Jersey or Dallas.
The Magic will thus have to decide Thursday if they can bear to keep Howard past the deadline as owner Richard DeVos wants and expose themselves to the possibility that the 26-year-old could walk away for nothing in July -- a la Shaquille O'Neal in the summer of 1996 -- or make the best possible trade they can make this week at the 11th hour.
Magic officials have been telling teams for weeks that they intend to keep Howard at DeVos' behest. The thinking there, sources said, is that the Magic still like their chances of changing Howard's mind -- believing that a successful playoff run or his deep roots in the Orlando community will ultimately make it hard to leave -- better than anything they can get in a trade.
To hold firm on that position, though, Orlando would have to be prepared for the worst-case scenario of Howard signing in free agency with the team of his choosing and leaving the Magic with no compensation for their franchise player.
One source said that DeVos, now 86, has come to regard Howard "like a son" and remains determined to give their relationship every chance of continuing.
Sources confirmed a RealGM.com report from earlier Monday that the Magic have continued to pursue Golden State's Monta Ellis as a complement to Howard. ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard reported Feb. 29 that Orlando had targeted Ellis as an ideal player to try to pry from the Warriors as a means of placating Howard.
But sources close to the situation told ESPN.com on Monday that the Warriors remain uninterested in parting with Ellis unless the trade lands Howard in Oakland. Golden State and Houston are at the top of the list of teams willing to go for a so-called "rental" trade for Howard this week with no guarantee that the NBA's reigning defensive player of the year will stay beyond the end of the season.
In the proposed deal, sources said, Hornets center Chris Kaman is the best player who would have been headed to Golden State, with the Warriors also required to take back Magic forward Hedo Turkoglu while shedding Dorell Wright and out-of-favor center Andris Biedrins. The Warriors, sources said, have no interest in such a swap.
Sources told ESPN.com that the Warriors have been far more focused Monday trying to assemble a workable trade scenario to acquire center Andrew Bogut from the Milwaukee Bucks as opposed to engaging the Magic in trade talks, since Orlando is intent on acquiring Ellis to keep Howard.
Marc Stein is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Chris Broussard is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.