Dwight Howard rumor storm begins: here is where we stand

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All-Star Weekend is in the rear view mirror, the NBA trade deadline is just more than two weeks away (March 15), so now the focus of the NBA world becomes this:

Where will Dwight Howard be playing March 16?

There are 8 million rumors out there in the naked city right now, here is where things stand as of today:

• The ball is in Magic’s court right now — until they decide they are going to trade (or not trade) Howard everything else is paused. Here is what the Orlando Sentinel reports on that front.

The Magic have said all along that they will speak to Howard at some point before or on March 1 to see what he plans to do when he can become a free agent this summer. The Magic then would assess their situation from there.

What the Magic will hear in that meeting is what they have heard all along from Howard and his representatives — he will not sign an extension in Orlando — reports Sam Amick at Sports Illustrated.

Sources with knowledge of Howard’s thinking say nothing has changed about his outlook. And while his wish-list of teams still includes the Nets, Lakers and Mavs, New Jersey is far and away the leader.

That said, the Magic are clearly undecided. It would not at all be surprising if they look at the trade options that start to flow in and decide to keep Howard anyway and take their chances this summer. This is not a team that wants to rebuild, and that’s an order from ownership.

• Why New Jersey? Because they are going to be Brooklyn soon and they have an elite point guard in Deron Williams, reports Amick.

Though it may pain the purists, it’s not just about basketball for Howard. He wants to take his brand global, to leverage the international influence of Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov while building his brand as Brooklyn’s first star. His wandering eye is enticed not only by the Barclays Center that is set to open next season, but the businesses in the booming area around it that could afford many off-court opportunities.

• What about the Lakers? One of the big rumors All-Star Weekend in Orlando was Howard, Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson to Los Angeles for Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. That is not happening. First, the Lakers have said multiple times they would not trade both Bynum and Gasol in a deal for Howard (or anyone else). Second, there is this from the Orlando Sentinel.

Magic CEO Alex Martins told the Sentinel the rumor is wrong.

Howard has had conversations with Kobe Bryant but does not have Los Angeles at the top of his list. From Amick at Sports Illustrated:

He wants, as one source said, to “be Kobe Bryant, not be with Kobe Bryant.”

Part of that also stems out of the conversations Howard had with Kobe, one where Kobe reportedly said the Lakers would still be his team and at times Howard could be the third offensive option behind Bryant and Pau Gasol (Kobe has denied that is how the talk went). Whatever happened in that conversation, the Lakers are not Howard’s top choice and Lakers ownership is not happy, Amick reports.

The Buss family that owns the Lakers, in turn, is said to be irked by Bryant’s alleged role in the matter and hopeful that Howard — who they see as the business and basketball draw for the next decade — can still be convinced otherwise. But Howard’s focus, one source close to him insists, was on the Nets regardless of Bryant’s perceived influence.

• What about Dallas? Howard wants to play with Deron Williams, and Williams has made noises he would like to return to his hometown of Dallas and play when he becomes a free agent this summer. From the New York Daily News.

“I always like playing (Dallas),” Williams said. “It’s my favorite arena – one of my favorite arenas to play in – probably my favorite to play in. I just enjoy playing here – enjoy playing in front of my friends, family. It’s always good to get the chance to come and see me play.”

If Howard is coming to New Jersey, Williams likely stays. He has said multiple times he really enjoys living in New York.

But as Adrian Wojnarowski said on NBC’s SportsTalk, watch the Shawn Marion situation — if Dallas can find a taker for his $8 million deal next season, they would have the money to offer max deals to both Howard and Williams to play with Dirk Nowtizki. Don’t put it past Mark Cuban to pull that off.

But that is the summer. Right now, the fate of Dwight Howard really rests with what the Magic decide to do in the next couple of weeks.