If Dwight Howard has decided he will join the New Jersey Nets via free agency in July, that determination has not been communicated to the Orlando Magic, according to the Magic’s chief executive officer, Alex Martins.
“I still believe there is a big piece of him that wants to be here,” Martins said Tuesday night, before the Magic hosted the Miami Heat at Amway Center.
“Now, does that equate to him being here? I’m not so sure. But I still believe there’s a big piece of him that wants to be here. But coming down to the deadline, we’re just going to have to make the best decision for the organization based on what we know at the time.”
The NBA trade deadline looms at 3 p.m. Thursday, and Martins insisted that the organization has not decided what it will do.
Howard would not speak to reporters Tuesday morning.
But there was plenty of speculation about intentions. That speculation included a report from Yahoo! Sports that said Howard already has decided to join the Nets.
Tuesday night, the Magic’s 86-year-old owner, Rich DeVos, made the rounds in the team locker room.
“I’m still hopeful that we’ll keep him,” said DeVos, who said a large segment of his family, including some of his granddaughters, have weighed-in on the Howard situation during family conference calls.
Martins said team officials will ask Howard — again — what he intends to do, and that team officials “will be prepared and will have the time to make the decision that we have to make by the trading deadline.”
Martins said “plenty” of teams have contacted the Magic about potential trades, even teams that were not on Howard’s list of preferred destinations. Martins added that he thinks offers could improve as the deadline approaches.
Martins said the final decision on what the Magic will do will come from the DeVos family.
But Martins holds enormous sway. He said he and General Manager Otis Smith agree on the team’s path.
“We’re going to do what’s in the best interests of the organization, period,” Martins said.
Earlier Tuesday, Magic moved to knock down an ESPN report that said team officials have promised Howard that Howard "can decide the fate of both GM Otis Smith and coach Stan Van Gundy at the end of the season if he signs an extension."
Magic officials released a statement from Martins that read: "The only person(s) who have the final say on coaches and management is the Orlando Magic ownership."
As he has before, Martins cited an agreement that he has made with Howard in which both parties pledged that they would not divulge the details of their conversations.
The report also said the Magic have told Howard they will add a quality player before the deadline.
Martins has taken the lead role in attempting to convince Howard to remain with the franchise, and Martins has kept in almost daily contact with Howard since Martins was promoted to the CEO's job in December.
Van Gundy heard about the report after the shootaround ended.
When asked about the report by the Orlando Sentinel, his comments were very similar to the comments he made after the Magic endured a particularly painful losing streak at the end of January. His focus, he said, is on winning, not on keeping his job.
"Look, I've said to you guys all along, and I'll just reiterate this: If they want to fire me, I don't care," Van Gundy said.
"If it's Dwight or anybody else, fire me. My brother, as I told you, had the best line on being fired anyway. It's not being fired that hurts. It's what leads up to it, and it's usually you're not getting the job done, you're losing and everything else. That's the pain. I haven't had to go through that."
Van Gundy added later: "All I care about is winning and making our team better."
Howard is under contract with the Magic through the 2012-13 season, but he can exercise an early termination option in his current deal that would allow him to become a free agent in July. He has not committed to staying with the team for the long-term, and all indications are that he wants to test free agency, where the Brooklyn-bound Nets would be top contenders for his services.
Magic officials have said all along that they want to keep Howard for years to come, but they have said since December that they will leave their options option and have not ruled out trading Howard if they believe they have no other choice.
If the Magic do not trade Howard before Thursday's deadline, Howard could sign with another team in July. And if that happens, the Magic could be left with no assets in return, which would decimate the Magic's on-court product in the short-term.
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