The Magic are exploring options to trade Dwight Howard, but the center's future won't truly be decided until next summer.
Dan Fegan, Howard's agent, announced that his client will undoubtedly become a free agent in 2013.
Dwight's position has remained unchanged since the end of this past season, said Fegan. He fully intends to explore free agency at the end of next season, regardless of what team trades for him, including Brooklyn.
The statement comes a day after it was reported that Howard was prepared to sign a contract extension with the Lakers if he were to be traded there. Los Angeles, Cleveland and Orlando have been in the midst of trade talks in recent days. Andrew Bynum would go to the Cavs, with draft picks and Anderson Varejao going to the Magic in a potential deal that would send Howard to the Lakers.
Just because Howard won't immediately sign a new contract with the team he's traded to, it doesn't mean he wouldn't stay with his new club. The general consensus is that he'd stay in Los Angeles long-term if the current proposed deal goes through.
Howard has no incentive to sign a contract extension at this point.
Because of the rules of the CBA, he can make a lot more money if he waits until he becomes a free agent to sign a new contract. The center can sign a five-year deal next summer. If he signs an extension as soon as he's traded, Howard can only sign a three-year deal.
If the All-Star does try to test the free agent market, his options will be somewhat limited. He wants to play for the Nets, but he would be forced to take the mid-level exception to play in Brooklyn. Howard likely won't leave close to $100 million on the table.
Los Angeles wouldn't be able to sign Howard in free agency either. They are over the salary cap and have the highest payroll in the NBA.
No team that went deep into the postseason last year would have room under the salary cap to sign the big man.
A team that acquires Howard in a trade will likely have the best chance of keeping him for years to come. That club will be able to offer Howard approximately $20 million more than anyone else. If the Magic hold onto their star player, they can offer him the most money, but the relationship between the sides is reportedly beyond repair.
Howard's unwillingness to commit long-term hasn't seemed to scare off prospective trading partners. The Lakers and Rockets, the two frontrunners to land Howard, are both willing to make a trade regardless of his contract status.
Andrew Bynum will also test the market in 2013. His unwillingness to commit to the Cavaliers is maybe the biggest reason why Cleveland, Los Angeles and Orlando have yet to execute a deal.
The Nets took a similar chance in 2011 when they traded for Deron Williams. The point guard didn't initially agree to an extension, but signed a long-term contract this summer when his old deal expired.