The truest mission statement for the Magic is not about winning a title this season.
It's about keeping Dwight Howard in town.
To update, as of Thursday, nothing has changed on the Howard trade front, according to Magic brass.
He still wants to be dealt (and after watching his team get hammered by the Bulls, he might have taken a parachute with him aboard the team charter for the West Coast trip).
And something else hasn't changed: Dwight still holds all the cards.
His ultimate leverage: telling whatever team the Magic have on the phone that he will or will not sign a contract extension with it.
As we know, Howard's choice of teams are the New Jersey Nets, Dallas Mavericks and L.A. Lakers. The Magic have held off in hopes of persuading him to stay, waiting to see if things change with the teams in the trade scenarios, which could come with complications:
The Nets: New Jersey is said to be Howard's first pick because they are moving to New York (Brooklyn) next season. The Nets also have all-star point guard Deron Williams….for now. There are indications that Williams is restless and uninspired playing on a dreadful club that lost center Brook Lopez (broken foot), the biggest trade chip in a possible Howard deal.
Williams might be leaning to joining Dallas, and play in his hometown – with or without Howard at his side. Maybe, though, the only thing stopping Williams from forcing his way to Orlando via a trade is Howard.
If Howard finds that the Magic won't gamble on Lopez and accepts the fact he won't be the clear-cut star in either Dallas or L.A…..why doesn't he say, "Deron, come on down to O-Town?!" The tables could turn dramatically. The Magic could try to deal, say, Jameer Nelson, Ryan Anderson and J.J. Redick for Williams. Anderson and Redick have increased their value.
The Mavs: Mark Cuban is looking to snare both Williams and Howard as free agents next summer, all but sacrificing this season after winning a title to make sure the Mavs have cap room. It's a smart, shrewd play.
Putting Dirk, Dwight and Deron on the floor seriously increases the Mavs' chances to make appearances in the Finals for the next decade as the Western Conference representative.
If Howard wants to be a Mav and join Williams, he can tell the Nets and Lakers he won't re-sign with them if traded, killing Orlando's compensation plans.
The nightmare for the Magic is that the Mavs don't have great assets beyond Dirk Nowitzki in a trade situation.
The Lakers: Kobe's club can hold sway in the futures of Howard and Williams and in the fates of Orlando and New Jersey.
The Lakers, by far, have the best assets on the board: big men Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.
They don't want to give up both talents for Howard, preferring to dangle Howard for Bynum, straight up. Maybe they also offer Gasol for Williams, massive upgrades for Kobe's remaining years.
The Lakers could stand pat, but not likely. They aren't off to a great start (5-4) and where they stand before the March 15 trade deadline could affect Howard, if not Williams, too.