The Nets have long been Howard's preferred destination, but after opting-in to another season with the Orlando Magic, he has limited leverage to get out of Orlando. The Nets have maintained interest in acquiring Howard to pair him with free agent point guard Deron Williams, but they might not be able to match a rumored trade offer from the Rockets.
The Rockets are trying to acquire two top-10 picks to offer the Magic in exchange for Howard. The Rockets have been in talks with the Sacramento Kings and Toronto Raptors about their top-10 picks, according to ESPN, and might be willing to part with guard Kyle Lowry in order to make a play at Howard.
Lowry had been considered somewhat untouchable, but could be parted for either the Kings' No. 5 pick or the Raptors' No. 7 selection. The Rockets could also be willing to part with their two first-round picks, No. 14 and No. 16.
A Houston offer of two top-10 picks plus a player would likely top anything the Nets are able to offer, especially with the Magic resisting an offer that centered on Brook Lopez for more than a year now. The Nets would also offer up future first-round draft picks, but do not own one in this year's draft after acquiring Gerald Wallace from the Portland Trail Blazers.
Howard has strongly indicated behind closed doors that he's only interested in going to the Nets, but that won't stop the Rockets from putting forth an impressive offer to acquire him. Howard would be unlikely to sign a long-term extension right away, but the Rockets could try to follow the Nets blueprint with Williams and try to convince Howard over time to sign an extension.
It will all come down to whether new general manager Rob Hennigan, the youngest in the league at 30 years old, is willing to trade Howard after only a week on the job. After accepting the job, Hennigan said he was interested in sitting down with Howard to discuss the future, but it's unknown whether a sit-down has occurred yet.
If Hennigan has a similar mindset as his former boss Sam Presi, with the Oklahoma City Thunder, he could be interested in dealing Howard in order to rebuild the Magic through the draft. But the Magic have shown a desire to do everything possible to hold on to Howard, even though he's made it clear that he wants out.