Hawks center Dwight Howard has a reasonable contract that New Orleans could absorb with the right deal. Reuters

Putting All-Star big man Anthony Davis in the best position to grow, as well as preserving his body and overall health, are undoubtedly the top priorities for the struggling New Orleans Pelicans.

Citing league sources, ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported Wednesday that after the Pelicans' 99-94 home loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the two clubs had “exploratory talks” about a possible deal for center Dwight Howard, but that was before the Hawks decided to yank a number players they had previously put on the trading block.

The report stresses it’s unknown exactly how interested New Orleans was in acquiring Howard and that there wasn’t “unanimous support” in doing so.

Still, the potential for a deal prior to Feb. 23’s trade deadline is intriguing for both teams.

For the Pelicans, they can ill afford to lose Davis for any stretch of time, so adding another big man would help alleviate some stress on the 23-year-old. Davis, who was selected No. 1 overall in the 2012 draft, has yet to play a full 82-game schedule and missed 21 games last season due to injuries. In his first four seasons, Davis missed a combined 68 games, and this season he’s missed three games while playing a career-high 36.6 minutes per game.

Adding Howard could take some pressure off of Davis and help keep him healthy. New Orleans is already ninth in the league in rebounding, but a middling 16th in points allowed per game and No. 22 in points scored per contest. Davis has some help in the frontcourt with forwards Terrence Jones, Dante Cunningham and the recently signed Donatas Motiejunas, but all three lack the type of production Howard provides in the low post.

Howard signed a three-year, $70.5 million deal with Atlanta last summer and is averaging 13.7 points, 13 rebounds and 1.4 blocks. While though those numbers pale in comparison to his rise with the Orlando Magic, he’s still a far more serviceable option than any other frontcourt Pelicans player outside of Davis.

Given the remaining years and the league's escalating salary cap, Howard’s contract is still quite moveable. The 31-year-old is set to make $23.5 million next season and $23.8 million for the 2018-19 season, after which he can again hit free agency. New Orleans is currently $5.6 million over the cap but has more than $13.4 million in luxury tax space, according to Spotrac.

Atlanta has been linked to much trade speculation this season, most of it due to forward Paul Millsap in the expectation that he will opt-out of his current contract and test free agency this summer. The Hawks may want to deal Millsap instead of losing him and not getting in exchange, which was the case when Al Horford signed with the Boston Celtics last summer.