The NBA trade deadline is on Thursday at 3:00 pm ET, and Dwight Howard continues to be the main focus of a potential blockbuster deal.
According to Ken Berger of CBSSports.com, Howard is leaning towards leaving for a new team as a free agent this off-season.
[Howard's] telling everyone he's leaving, a league source said on Sunday, according to Berger. If the Magic don't make a trade by Thursday, all that he may have to show for losing Howard this summer would be cap space.
Such a scenario would be catastrophic for the Magic. If Howard leaves, and the Magic get nothing in return, Orlando would basically be in a similar situation as the Cleveland Cavaliers were when LeBron James bolted from Ohio.
Magic general manager Otis Smith told the Orlando Sentinel that the odds of Howard being dealt are 50-50.
There are a number of trades on the table for Howard. Here are the ones that have the best chance to go down:
1) Howard for Andrew Bynum and draft picks Imagine the devastation Magic fans will feel if the team doesn't trade Howard on Thursday and the center decides to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers in the off-season. It will be deja vu for Orlando after Shaquille O'Neal left for Los Angeles in the summer of 1996 in perhaps the most dramatic signing in NBA history.
The Magic would be receiving a star center in Andrew Bynum. The 24-year-old is averaging 17.1 points and 12.6 rebounds per game on a team where he has to compete with shots from high-volume-shooting Kobe Bryant, and rebounds from 7'0 power forward Pau Gasol. If Bynum was the sole big man and the top scoring option on a team like Orlando, his numbers would be much better.
The Magic have yet to receive a better offer than Bynum, who is arguably the second-best center in the NBA. He appears to have overcome his injury woes, and has shown signs of being a legitimate competitor.
Jim Buss, the Lakers' executive and son of the long-time owner, has never warmed to the idea of trading Bynum, who he helped bring to the organization in 2005. But the Lakers want to win now, and adding Howard would strengthen the team's chances of winning a title this season, and while Bryant is still among the best players in the NBA.
What's apparently keeping Orlando from pulling off a deal is Howard's insistence to wait until the off-season to sign a contract. Howard likely doesn't want to go to a team that is gutted because they gave up players to acquire him.
The Lakers wouldn't be gutted with a deal for Howard. Meanwhile, the Magic would still have an excellent young center, draft picks to build around Bynum, and a decrease in payroll of about $3 million.
Because of Howard's rent status this season, the Lakers seem to make the most sense. Howard would probably find it hard to leave sunny southern California when he has Bryant and Gasol next to him, and perhaps a title under his belt going into free-agent negotiations.
A problem for the Lakers is payroll. They would be paying three players: Howard, Bryant, and Gasol an enormous sum next season. The club is looking to cut payroll, not add to it.
2) Howard and Hedo Turkoglu for Omer Asik, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and a draft pick Berger reported this story recently, and this deal would make for a lethal combination of Derrick Rose and Howard.
This deal makes sense from a financial perspective. The Magic want Turkoglu's bloated contract off the books and would be adding depth to the frontcourt by having two legitimate starters in Deng and Boozer.
But this trade is simply not enough for Howard. Asik, who is averaging 3.2 points per game, isn't a legitimate starter. Boozer and Deng are both among the most gifted at their positions in the Eastern Conference, but neither is a superstar or a player to build around. The draft pick will help Orlando get younger, but it wouldn't be a lottery pick.
The Bulls would get Howard, but might tamper with a team that might win a title this season without him. By adding Howard and Turkoglu, the Bulls will be very strong, but they might lose what they have going for them now: a unit where everyone knows their roles.
Then there's the possibility that Howard leaves at the end of the season. Berger quoted a source that said Chicago is not on [Howard's] list.
If Chicago lands Howard on Thursday, they might be left with just Turkoglu's contract after giving up some important pieces.
3) Howard for Mehmet Okur, Kris Humphries, and draft picks This would be the worst trade possible for the Magic, but Howard is willing to sign with the New Jersey Nets, so the Nets would simply be dumping salaries to make room for signing both Howard and Brook Lopez.
This is a one-sided trade as Okur and Humphries are solid players but are not capable of making an impact like Howard. It's possible MarShon Brooks, who has a contract that is a bargain based on his production, could be included to take the sting out of the lopsided trade. The rookie guard is averaging nearly 14 points per game, and is shooting 45 percent from the field.
Howard's interest in New Jersey is the main reason this deal could go down. Sure, the chances of New Jersey making the playoffs this season with Howard would be extremely difficult, but the eye would be on next season.
Orlando may not have a choice but to make this trade. They won't get what they want, but they will at least get something if Howard refuses to except a deal with other teams.
Dwight's gone, and [Magic CEO] Alex Martins is the only person who doesn't believe that, said a league source to Yahoo! Sports.
4) Howard and Turkoglu for Tyson Chandler and Amare Stoudemire The Knicks are part of Howard's list of teams that he wants to play for, and the Knicks may need to shake things up. The Magic have denied they've made inquiries about such a deal, but perhaps they're willing to negotiate now that the deadline is getting closer.
The Magic would be adding to their payroll by making this deal, but would be getting two quality big men. However, Stoudemire's production has dropped off this season and Chandler is not exactly a scoring machine, but at least the Magic would have compensation for losing Howard and would have some name recognition in having two players most fans are aware of. Also, it's a major bonus to lose Turkoglu's contract.
Stoudemire is from Florida, and at age 29 he wants to win right now. Chandler has a title under his belt, and is a fierce competitor. The duo have long-term deals in place, so Orlando can build the perimeter players around them.
The Knicks would add star power by having Howard, which is always a bonus in Gotham.
But just like with the Lakers, it's not completely clear he will stay with the team beyond this season. There will be a firestorm of hate from the media capital of the world directed at Howard if he bolts in the off-season from the Big Apple after the Knicks gave up Chandler and Stoudemire to get him.
5) Howard for David Lee and Dorrell Wright and draft picks Because Howard apparently wants to play with Monta Ellis, the Magic might consider a deal with the Golden State Warriors. Lee, who went to college at Florida, had been linked to a deal with Orlando, but it would take much more than the 6'9 power forward for the Magic to accept a trade with Golden State.
The Magic want to trade for Ellis to keep Howard in Orlando, but that isn't happening. Instead, Orlando could land a very good big man in Lee. Wright has made steady gains in the past two seasons, though his numbers have dipped considerably from last season. The Magic would also lower their payroll in the process.
Still, the Magic would likely want more than just Lee and Wright, and the Warriors aren't exactly loaded with talent beyond their starting backcourt. Stephen Curry would be a very valuable piece, but he has had injuries and the Warriors would be reluctant to let him go, as the team would basically consist of just Ellis and Howard.
Orlando would also be adding key players from a team that is four games under .500. Without a franchise star around Lee, Wright and whoever else could be thrown in, the Magic would be worse off, and their goal would be to least be where they are now.
GM Otis Smith has a lot of choices to weigh between now and Thursday afternoon.
The worst choice might be to do nothing at all.