The recruiting continues in Orlando, where Magic officials are wooing Dwight Howard until the very end while planning for his possible exit at the same time.
They are taking calls from around the league leading up to Thursday's 3 p.m. ET trade deadline, going far beyond his agent's list of preferred destinations (the Nets, Lakers and Mavericks) to find the right deal and still hoping he can be sold on the idea of sticking around. Owner Rich DeVos is as adamant as anyone that the right move for Howard and the Magic is for him to stay. He's determined to not give in, to not give his franchise player up, in part because he considers them kindred spirits.
Before the 86-year-old DeVos -- who is worth approximately $5 billion, according to Forbes -- co-founded Amway, he was a young entrepreneur who wanted to make it big in the small town of Ada, Michigan. People told him it wasn't possible, that he needed to move the operation to a bigger market. More than 50 years later, he's gone global in every way imaginable while overseeing sales that reportedly topped $10 billion in the last fiscal year.
This is the perfect pitch that Howard has heard many times before, the Magic's old-school story that they so badly wish would resonate with their once-beloved star. Instead, the allure of the big city lights and the uncertainty about what he truly wants remain.
Howard wants it all, it seems -- the championships, the global brand, the chance to be the toast of whatever town he's in. And throughout this puzzling process, sources close to Howard say he has been convinced that only New Jersey can provide such vast opportunities. He would be the main attraction in the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn that is set to open next season, when he'd team up with fellow free-agent-to-be, point guard Deron Williams, and be assured his lion's share of the spotlight.
That's the most maddening part of all for the Magic, this idea that they somehow can't compete with this overall package. The Magic have a brand new building of their own, the beautiful Amway Center that opened last season and was supposed to be his basketball home for years to come. They have an organization that's serious about winning (five straight seasons in the luxury tax) and a team that's playing as well as any other (third place in the Eastern Conference at 27-15 overall, having won 15 of their last 21 games).
They have the red carpet all ready for Howard, too, from the five-year maximum salary contract they would give him if he re-signed, to the lengths they would go to help him maximize any and all marketing and business opportunities as well (as if the absence of state taxes wasn't nice enough). "It's not like this is a Shaq situation, where he was low-balled," one source close to the situation said in reference to Shaquille O'Neal's well-chronicled exodus from Orlando to the Lakers in 1996.
No, the Magic are doing all they can this time around. Yet, Howard's mixed messages remain a source of frustration for the Magic, the way those positive talks with team officials are so often followed by negativity once he speaks with the representatives who are executing his exit.
If Howard can't be convinced that he can be this generation's basketball version of DeVos -- the small-market sensation who goes global without actually moving spots on the globe -- the Nets will be forced to improve their package in these coming days unless they want to risk opening the Howard market this summer in free agency. Their situation is almost identical to that of the Magic, the pressure mounting with the threat of having a star-less building next season and the thought of being left only with salary cap space to work with. Golden State and Houston are still willing to trade for Howard without any assurances for the future, so those options remain. Atlanta and Chicago are believed to be interested in a Howard deal, but his lack of interest in playing in either city appears to have short-circuited those options. Despite the Lakers being on his list, sources close to Howard continue to say he doesn't want to play for them. Dallas is only an option via free agency.
Meanwhile, the Magic are trying to get Howard the help he needs in a last-ditch effort to improve the roster around him. As was reported by RealGM.com, sources said Orlando attempted to land Warriors guard Monta Ellis in a three-team deal with the Hornets. But the Warriors showed no interest in helping Orlando hold onto the big man, and
That means DeVos, CEO Alex Martins and general manager Otis Smith must look elsewhere for talent in this 11th-hour recruiting effort.
Their hope, of course, is that Howard hears DeVos' story again and picks the path that worked so well a half-century ago.