Speculation that Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard will be traded or sign with a new team when he becomes a free agent in 2012 appears to be growing.
Howard is a full year away from free agency, but losing the 6'11 star appears so plausible to some that a Web site was created to keep him in Orlando, staydwight.com.
Though Howard has yet to make a trade demand or even hint of leaving, the Magic organization may already see signals that he might sign with another team.
Howard wants to win a ring, and right now the Magic don't have the players around him to facilitate that. In the Eastern Conference, the Heat should be just as strong next season as they are now, if not stronger. The Bulls have a 22-year-old MVP and plenty of other young talent around Derrick Rose.
Unless the Magic can lure an elite player to join Howard, the team will be hard-pressed to retain him. Orlando actually is a better destination to acquire an elite player than many other franchises. The state is warm, state taxes are low, the team is often in the playoffs, and whoever they get will be teaming up with Howard.
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But it may take more than one high-profile player to propel the Magic into the class of Chicago and Miami. Since this year's free-agent class is rather weak, surrounding Howard with the talent for him to stay would probably require a trade, and the Magic don't have much to bargain with.
In last summer's free agent market, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, and Carlos Boozer all left their teams for what they thought would be a better opportunity to win a championship.
During the regular season, there was talk that a swap of Howard for the Lakers' Andrew Bynum was in the works. That deal seemed rather implausible at the time, and there was no reports of serious discussions between the two teams.
At the time, the Lakers were still seen as one of the title favorites, and Orlando still felt secure with Howard. But the trade rumor ignited the possibility that Howard wanted out.
With the Lakers looking to make changes after their early departure from the playoffs, and the Magic contemplating the reality that superstars are looking to play with other superstars, the idea of such a trade gained momentum, on the Internet and ESPN.
Event the Orlando Sentinel was acknowledging it.
The newspaper wrote on Monday: The Magic have no intention of trading Howard unless he asks out and asks to go to a specific team, a la Carmelo Anthony.
If Howard tells them he wants to move on to L.A., then the Magic have to consider a deal to receive compensation, and you could do worse than, say, Bynum.
This prompted a Twitter response from Howard on Monday night: Y does it seem like the writers of Orlando sentinel are tryna push me out of Orlando with dumb articles. It's annoying. Can I enjoy my summer and get ready for next season in Orlando. Pls. Same thing u guys did to Shaq. Smh
Referencing Shaquille O'Neal should send shivers down the backs of Magic fans. The fact that O'Neal gave so much indication that he wanted to stay, yet still ended up in Hollywood, can't sit well for anyone considering the fate of Howard.
The paper shot back, saying it desperately wanted Howard to stay.
But the Sentinel is right that the Magic could certainly do worse than Bynum. The Lakers' center is among the most talented seven-footers in the NBA. He's an imposing defensive player, has good moves in the low post, and has emerged as an excellent rebounder in recent months.
But many in Orlando think a deal for just Bynum is not enough. The Sentinel also speculated throwing in Gilbert Arenas's contract to acquire both Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol.
That could be reaching, particularly if Howard demands to go to the Lakers, which for all we know he might. Should Howard make such a demand, it wouldn't be wise for the Lakers to include Gasol and Odom since the team has no real desire to deal those players, and since a straight-up trade for Howard and Bynum fits from a contract standpoint.
As for the Lakers and Bynum, developments this season may give the team reason to part ways with their young center. Bynum has had frequent knee injuries, he made a public comment about the Lakers having trust issues, and recently seemed to give a half-hearted apology for a harsh foul on Dallas guard JJ Barea.
Also, since the Lakers had made three-straight trips to the Finals, there was no reason to make any major alterations to the roster. Now that they were swept by Dallas, general manager Mitch Kupchak has incentive to retool the team, and Bynum might be the best candidate to be dealt, despite his upside.
All the talk might be what moves Howard. The more his possible departure is being speculated, the more it can become a reality.
That's good news for the Lakers, and bad news for the Magic.