While the agent for Orlando center Dwight Howard was given permission to talk with the Lakers, Nets and Mavericks about a possible trade on Friday, Magic CEO Alex Martins told SI.com that the team was still considering filing tampering charges regarding an alleged meeting with New Jersey officials.
SI.com confirmed an Orlando Sentinel report Saturday evening that claimed Howard had requested, on multiple occasions, that the Magic trade him.
Magic GM Otis Smith told the Sentinel that Howard twice asked to be dealt since Monday.
Smith, who still hopes to keep the coveted center long-term, said Howard's camp hasn't told the team that he definitely won't stay in Orlando. The GM also told the Sentinel that he hasn't decided if he will trade Howard before the March 15 trade deadline, but acknowledged the fact that keeping him beyond that point would be extremely risky for the Magic since Howard would have no incentive to agree to a sign-and-trade after that date. Howard, a potential 2012 free agent, could leave on his own next summer, leaving Orlando with nothing in return.
According to sources close to the talks, the team to which Howard asked to be dealt was the Nets. There had been growing indications that Howard would ask for such a trade, and sources said on Friday morning that the Magic were investigating the alleged meeting between New Jersey owner Mikhail Prokhorov and Orlando's franchise player on Thursday in Miami. NBA.com first reported that the Magic were considering tampering charges against two unnamed teams, and ESPN.com later reported that Nets general manager Billy King and business associates were also at the alleged meeting. Because teams are not authorized to speak with another team's players without permission, any such meeting would be considered tampering and the Nets could be subject to fines and the loss of draft picks.
Martins, reached via phone late Friday night, said the alleged meeting was still being investigated and reiterated that the matter would be taken seriously.
"They did not have permission to talk to him," Martins told SI.com. "We're continuing to gather the information based on the stories, and we'll evaluate whether we're going to take any action once we have all of our information."
In a statement to reporters, however, Howard's agent, Dan Fegan, denied any wrongdoing.
"I read reports today of a meeting between Dwight Howard, his representatives and the New Jersey Nets, which claimed, according to the story's 'anonymous sources' that such a meeting violated the NBA's tampering policies," Fegan wrote. "This story is clearly inaccurate with respect to tampering claims and other facts. Tampering doesn't apply once a team grants permission for a player and/or his representatives to make contact with another team.
"The Magic have given us permission to have contact with several teams in order for Dwight to explore his options. I most definitely had contact with the teams I was granted permission. Since we had permission to have contact with several teams the report of possible tampering is undeniably false."
The saga only grew more strange after Fegan released his statement, as Magic vice president of communications Joel Glass told SI.com that Fegan, though not Howard, would be permitted to discuss trades with the Lakers, Mavericks and Nets. Glass made it clear that the permission was given "going forward" and had not been granted previously.
Earlier in the day, Martins had been more general in his comments to reporters in Orlando. "There aren't any tampering charges," he said. "Dwight is under contract with us and our rules in the league are very explicit about when a player is under contract with a team other teams aren't allowed to contact that player or a representative about them. ... If that's been voided in any way we'll deal with it to the fullest extent that the NBA's Constitution allows."
Howard denied the allegation in an interview with ESPN.com on Friday. "There was no meeting," he said. "Right now, my plan is to show up to training camp for the Orlando Magic."
King said in a statement, "Contrary to published reports, the New Jersey Nets did not meet with Dwight Howard."
Magic general manager Otis Smith did not return a call for comment.
If the Magic follow through with tampering charges, the likelihood of Howard joining point guard Deron Williams in New Jersey via trade would be slim. As it was, sources said the Nets were continuing their pursuit of free-agent big man Nene and appear to be in the lead in that race. The Nuggets and Pacers are still in the mix for Nene as well.
While a high-ranking NBA source says the Nets have made no offers to the Magic and have had no conversations with the team, a source close to Howard said New Jersey is indeed one of the teams with which Howard would agree to be traded to and sign a long-term extension.
A source close to the situation said early Friday that Orlando was also considering filing tampering charges against Houston, but a decision was later made not to pursue the Rockets claim due to lack of information.