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Nets still optimistic for Howard deal

The Brooklyn Nets remain cautiously optimistic that they will be able to acquire Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard even after a potential four-team deal fell apart, according to league sources.

While Orlando continues talks with several teams about Howard, the Nets are hopeful that they still could land the three-time Defensive Player of the Year by knowing what interests new Magic general manager Rob Hennigan above all else: draft picks.

The former Oklahoma City executive is looking to build through the draft in much the same way that the Thunder did during his time there. With Hennigan prioritizing picks in a trade for his 26-year-old franchise player, the Nets could offer four first-round picks of their own in a bid to obtain Howard and pair him with point guard Deron Williams, shooting guard Joe Johnson and small forward Gerald Wallace. A third team potentially could deliver a fifth first-round pick to Orlando, too. In the four-team trade that collapsed late Monday after the Cavaliers cooled on the idea, the Clippers would have sent a first-round pick to the Magic and received shooting guard MarShon Brooks from the Nets.

In one scenario in play, the Magic would get center Brook Lopez and power forward Kris Humphries (both via sign-and-trade) while likely dealing shooting guard Jason Richardson to Brooklyn to unload his deal worth $18.6 million in the next three seasons. While the Magic would prefer to send Humphries elsewhere in a deal with three or more teams, keeping him could enable them to collect an extra first-round pick from the Nets.

Sources with knowledge of the Magic's approach say they're staying patient and that all the familiar teams -- Houston, Atlanta, the Lakers and the Nets among them -- remain in in the mix for Howard. That doesn't bode well for the Nets, whose reliance on numerous free agents in their proposal is complicated by the end of the league's free agency moratorium at 12:01 a.m. ET Wednesday. While Humphries has the same agent as Howard and is expected to cooperate in a Howard trade as long as he secures a multiyear deal, free agents who have been part of the Nets' various proposals and may be needed for salary-matching purposes -- such as Shelden Williams, Sundiata Gaines and Armon Johnson -- will be able to sign with other teams.

Meanwhile, there were multiple reports that the Lakers, Houston and Orlando have discussed a deal in which the Lakers would send center Andrew Bynum to Houston while landing Howard and the Magic would receive a package of picks, prospects and salary-cap relief. The Rockets have been aggressive in their pursuit of a star since early June, when they began moving up in the draft and ultimately selected UConn shooting guard Jeremy Lamb, Iowa State forward Royce White and Kentucky forward Terrence Jones.

They've continued making moves since then, the most recent coming on Monday when they agreed to a sign-and-trade that will send center Marcus Camby to New York in exchange for three expiring contracts and two second-round picks. Sources said the Rockets were calling teams with salary-cap room on Tuesday looking to rid themselves of even more salary.

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