Is it possible that after all these months of chatter, the endless trade talks and media reports about how and when he'll get to the next destination of his choice, that Dwight Howard remains in a Magic jersey past the March 15 trade deadline? Sources close to the process say it is.
If the Orlando brain-trust of owner Rich DeVos, CEO Alex Martins and general manager Otis Smith ultimately decide to keep the big man grounded, it will be for two obvious reasons: The pieces available in return simply weren't deemed good enough to build a post-Howard foundation and the allure of regaining $18 million in salary cap space was more enticing, and there remains some hope of him staying long-term. Martins said as much on Friday, telling Yahoo! Sports that "good conversations with [Howard] and his "people" had given him "hope."
Yet while there would be even more reason for optimism if the Magic could find some help for Howard, two sources close to the situation said their reported attempt to land Golden State guard Monta Ellis simply never happened. Warriors owner Joe Lacob is obsessed with the far-fetched thought of landing Howard himself, and chances are he wouldn't green-light any move -- even if it was a three- or four-team situation -- that helped Orlando keep Howard. More on the Warriors' front later.
As for the Magic's slice of leverage -- that extra fifth year on his contract and three percent edge on raises -- SI.com's Zach Lowe recently noted its relevancy is routinely and dramatically overstated because we're talking about mid-20s athletes with no plans of early retirement (or injury) here.
Still, a source close to New Jersey general manager Billy King said he is operating with the understanding that getting Howard for the long haul via trade is much more likely than via free agency because of his desire for the extra cash. That's the only way to impress fellow free-agent-to-be and Nets point guard Deron Williams as well, meaning this bold plan that was launched when they acquired Williams from Utah last February faces serious stakes in these coming weeks. There is also always the chance Howard could exercise his 2012-13 player option for $19.5 million if he felt like pushing the pause button on this whole sordid experience.
The only good news for King these days is that he appears to be in a one-horse race, with Howard's other preferred landing spots (the Lakers and Dallas) coming up with all sorts of deal-breaking complications. Which brings us back to Golden State.
Anyone who enjoys good theater should be rooting for the Warriors to pull off Mission Impossible here. Despite repeated assurances from Howard's agent, Dan Fegan, that the Howard would not stay beyond this season, sources say Lacob remains willing to blow up his roster for Howard -- even in a rental situation. His pitch is the West Coast version of the Nets' recruiting campaign: a virtual marketing bridge from the Bay to a lucrative overseas market in Asia and Howard's dream of becoming, as he has so often said privately, "a global icon." In a similar vein to the Nets' move from Newark to Brooklyn next season, the Warriors' lease on Oracle Arena in Oakland expires in 2016 and the idea of moving to San Francisco at that point is being explored.
To be clear, the idea of Lacob sending that all-or-nothing message now is very different from actually shipping the likes of Ellis or Stephen Curry to Orlando for a six-week date with Howard, so we'll see where it goes from here. Lacob could change his stance if his team falls even further back in the standings soon (the Warriors are four games out of a playoff spot at 14-19).
It's mostly a moot point as it is, considering the Magic haven't shown much interest in anyone on the Warriors' roster. If Lacob landed Howard, though, he'd have to deal with the possible reality of Howard bolting from the Bay Area and leaving a decimated Warriors roster behind. Then we're talking real tragic comedy, one that even Howard might find funny.
As you've likely heard, the breakup of the Celtics may be sped up soon.
Yet for all the talk of Boston point guard Rajon Rondo possibly being traded, some league executives have shooting guard and free-agent-to-be Ray Allen pegged as the most likely to be moved. Sources say the Clippers are interested, having lost Chauncey Billups to season-ending injury and lost out to New York in the J.R. Smith sweepstakes.
But the price is likely too high, as Boston wants a package that includes a young talent and a draft pick. The Clippers don't have the latter component, though, and there's a bit of irony involved as to why.
Their 2012 first-round pick went to Oklahoma City in a deal for point guard Eric Bledsoe, and was then moved to Boston in the trade that sent center Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder. The Clippers also had Minnesota's unprotected 2012 first-rounder, but gave it to New Orleans in the Chris Paul trade.
Even with his age (36), Allen would be a difference maker for any team looking to add offensive firepower. The NBA's all-time 3-point champion is shooting a career-high 48.6 percent from beyond the arc (third in the league) while averaging 14.8 points per game on 47.5 percent shooting overall.
The Celtics (18-17) are still in playoff position, and they have some incentive to not fall too far this season no matter what moves are made since the aforementioned pick from the Clippers is top-10-protected until 2016. Boston also has its own 2012 first-round pick as well.
The Clippers or any other team looking for scoring could also turn their attention to Portland's Jamal Crawford. With the Blazers (18-18) underachieving and the 12-year veteran having struggled to fit in this season, sources say he's available. Crawford signed a two-year, $10 million deal on Dec. 15, but the second season is a player option and he plans to opt out this summer to retest the free agent market.
Crawford wasn't a natural fit from the start, as defensive-minded coach Nate McMillan was said to be wary of whether his new player would buy in on both ends. What's more, McMillan's use of Crawford as the starting point guard over Raymond Felton rather than playing him at his natural off-guard position is causing Crawford some consternation.
The 2009-10 Sixth Man of the Year -- who, for what it's worth, would prefer to finish the season in Portland -- is averaging 14.5 points in just 26.8 minutes per game. But his 40.2 percent shooting is his lowest mark since the 2006-07 campaign. While it's not known whether the Clippers and Blazers have discussed a deal involving Crawford, a source close to him said they showed significant interest when he was a free agent but lacked the flexibility to get a deal done.
The Lakers are well aware that they need scoring and point guard help, thus their continued interest in Minnesota's Michael Beasley and Cleveland's Ramon Sessions.
Beasley, whose scoring and playing time are down significantly under first-year T-wolves coach Rick Adelman, is making $6.2 million this season (prorated for the 66-game season) and is a restricted free agent this offseason. Sessions, who is talented but expendable with the arrival of Rookie of the Year frontrunner Kyrie Irving, is on the books for $4.2 million this season with a player option of $4.5 million in 2012-13.
But it's unclear whether they're willing to take on any salary in any such deal or simply land one of them merely by way of their $8.9 million trade exception acquired in the Lamar Odom trade with Dallas in December, as well as giving up the lesser of their two first-round draft picks (theirs or the one obtained from Dallas in the Odom deal that is top 20 protected through 2018). It's no secret that the Lakers are trying to prepare for the luxury tax hell that's coming in the 2013-14 season, when the more punitive system agreed on in the new collective bargaining agreement will finally be put into place. One source said Lakers small forward Matt Barnes was included in one version of a possible Beasley deal with Minnesota.
Meanwhile, the future of Lakers forward Pau Gasol hasn't been made any more clear after Kobe Bryant's Feb. 19 mandate for clarity from management. Sources say Minnesota general manager David Kahn is still attempting to land Gasol, and that push is likely to continue all the way until the deadline. Houston general manager Daryl Morey remains equally enamored with the player he thought he landed in the vetoed three-team deal with the Lakers and New Orleans on Dec. 8, but the Rockets' love of point guard Kyle Lowry (who the Lakers would also love) has likely ended any possibilities there.
Should no moves take place, the Lakers -- who are 16-2 at home and just 6-12 on the road -- may remember this stretch as being pivotal come playoff time. They have won seven of their last nine games and crept into the top four in the Western Conference, otherwise known as home-court advantage territory.
In the five games since Bryant spoke publicly about Gasol's situation, the forward has continued his steady play while averaging 18.4 points and 8.4 rebounds.
"It is what it is," his brother, Memphis center Marc Gasol, told SI.com during All-Star weekend in Orlando. "There's no way around it. He knows that his name is out there and [the Lakers] are putting it out there and trying to find the best deal for them, but I think he's doing a great job of staying out of it and playing great basketball and trying to win games. That's all he wants to do. You can't find players like Pau.
"Pau's abilities cannot be found anywhere else, with that length, so many skills that he has. He can score so many different ways. He makes his teammates better, and on top of everything he's a winner. Winning is on top of everything. He doesn't care about points, rebounds, anything like that."
The Nuggets and restricted free agent small forward Wilson Chandler are struggling to get a deal done, and his agent, Chris Luchey, said on Friday that the possibility remains that he head overseas until next season.
Chandler, who played in China during the lockout but was recently cleared by FIBA to return to the NBA, had until March 1 to sign an offer sheet with another team and force Denver to match. But since no offer sheets were signed and Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri has made it clear he will only sign Chandler to a long-term deal, the four-year veteran may decide to play in Italy and restart negotiations this summer when he would still be a restricted free agent.
Teams with cap space could then join the bidding and the question of whether the Nuggets would match wouldn't be so certain then as it was before. Luchey, who made it clear that the negotiations with Ujiri continue, said one offer sheet came in that was declined (he wouldn't specify which team).
In a roundabout way, Clippers center DeAndre Jordan deserves as much credit for the Jeremy Lin saga as anyone. Because Golden State was so determined to land the then-restricted free agent in early December, they waived Lin in order to clear more salary cap space and boost the offer.
Nearly three months later, Lin -- the second-year, undrafted pick out of Harvard who was also cut by Houston before landing in New York and sparking the Knicks' incredible turnaround -- may be the most marketable talent in the league, in part, because of his international appeal as an Asian-American phenom. And should Lin feel like cutting Jordan a check from a potential new contract to show his appreciation, you can bet it won't be returned.
"It's a great story," Jordan said recently. "And at the end of the day, I'm happy for that dude. So I mean, I know he's about to sign some new deals, so..."
"Pay up?" he was asked in jest
"Exactly," Jordan said.
For the Clippers' purposes, it was -- as coach Vinny Del Negro said -- the "smart move." But Blake Griffin's decision not to defend his All-Star slam dunk contest crown was seen as a negative by most everyone else, as the event was sorely lacking on star power and sizzle.
Between the Rising Stars Challenge and the All-Star Game itself, Griffin's schedule was plenty full and he opted to take a rare rest on Saturday night after making the long trip from Los Angeles to Orlando.
"I was able to just rest and see my family and chill, and I needed that," Griffin said once the weekend had come to an end. "Looking back on it, I'm so glad I did it that way, just because I wouldn't have had a chance to rest otherwise. It wasn't necessarily a no-brainer. I wanted to."
Griffin hadn't yet heard of LeBron James' idea, how the Miami star said he'd reconsider participating if there was a $1 million reward involved. And while he already said he'd like to take part again, he admitted the extra incentive wouldn't hurt.
"I'm not opposed to doing it again ... but [the $1 million] makes it a little bit more competitive," Griffin said. "Like I said, I think a lot of guys want to rest for All-Star weekend. That's two or three days you don't normally get. That's just one more thing to do. It's just one of those things."
Memo to NBA fans in the Orlando area: Find Gilbert Arenas at your local YMCA and get back to me with a scouting report, or even some YouTube material.
The 30-year-old guard who was amnestied by the Magic in mid-December continues to dominate the rec league ranks, informing me via text message that he scored 42 points on Thursday night -- in the fourth quarter alone. Arenas, who explained his situation at length in our recent interview, always envisioned a post-All-Star break return. The Lakers worked him out on Feb. 29 in Los Angeles and could still sign him. The trade deadline could be coming into play here, as teams likely want to preserve maximum flexibility until no more moves can be made.