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Monday, March 12, 2012
Updated: March 13, 8:38 PM ET
Magic trying to please Dwight Howard

By Marc Stein and Chris Broussard
ESPN.com

The Orlando Magic's strategy for the moment on Dwight Howard, according to sources close to the process, calls for spending the next 48 hours or so making one last hard push to acquire the sort of difference-maker that would encourage Howard to commit his long-term future to the team that drafted him in 2004.

If no newcomer is acquired by Wednesday, sources said, Magic officials plan to spend the final 24 hours before Thursday's 3 p.m. ET deadline evaluating all of their trade options and then deciding Thursday whether to stick to their long-standing desire to roll the dice and keep Howard beyond the deadline or make the best available trade.

As part of this process, one source said, Orlando will continue to seek a "definitive answer" from Howard about his future and hold out hope that he'd at least agree to exercise the option for next season on his current contract to give their marriage at least one more year. But Howard, according to associates, is determined to become a free agent in July in order to have complete control of his future and get to one of the top two destinations on his wish list: New Jersey or Dallas.

A source close to Howard, addressing reports that he's already made up his mind to join the future Brooklyn Nets, told ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher that's not a done deal.

"Brooklyn is 1 and Dallas is 1-A," the source said, "but he hasn't made any decision. He hasn't even decided that he's leaving Orlando. If they can put one or two All-Star players around him, he'd consider staying. All he wants at this point is to play out the season with the Magic and be able to weigh his options."

The Magic will thus have to decide Thursday if they can bear to keep Howard past the deadline, as owner Richard DeVos wants, and expose themselves to the possibility that the 26-year-old could walk away for nothing in July -- a la Shaquille O'Neal in the summer of 1996 -- or make the best possible trade they can make this week at the 11th hour.

Magic officials have been telling teams for weeks that they intend to keep Howard at DeVos' behest. The thinking there, sources said, is that the Magic still like their chances of changing Howard's mind -- believing that a successful playoff run or his deep roots in the Orlando community will ultimately make it hard to leave -- better than anything they can get in a trade.

To hold firm on that position, though, Orlando would have to be prepared for the worst-case scenario of Howard signing in free agency with the team of his choosing and leaving the Magic with no compensation for their franchise player.

One source said that DeVos, now 86, has come to regard Howard "like a son" and remains determined to give their relationship every chance of continuing.

All indications are that team CEO Alex Martins, not general manager Otis Smith, is presiding over attempts to keep Howard in Orlando.

One source close to the situation told Bucher that the Magic have promised Howard that they will add a quality player before Thursday's deadline and that Howard can decide the fate of both Smith and coach Stan Van Gundy at the end of the season if he signs an extension.

"Look, I've said this many times before. If anybody thinks I care about that, I really don't give a damn about getting fired," Van Gundy said before Tuesday's game against the Miami Heat. "If they want to fire me to please somebody, fire me. I really don't give a damn."

"The rumor today, Dwight's deciding if we're staying or going. I have enough perspective where you can sit back and laugh at some of it," Van Gundy added.

The Magic, in a statement issued by Martins on Tuesday, said: "The only person(s) who have the final say on coaches and management is the Orlando Magic ownership," the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Dan Fegan, Howard's agent, declined to address whether the Magic had offered Howard the ability to decide Smith and Van Gundy's fates. But he did say that Howard has not sought and does not want that responsibility.

"I want to be clear that Dwight has never asked for, and does not want, the burden of making the Magic's operational decisions," Fegan said. "The only thing that Dwight has asked the Magic is that they do their very best to build a championship team -- period. End of story."

Fegan also said that in no case will Howard agree to extend his current deal with the Magic, calling that request "ridiculous."

Howard declined to speak with reporters after the Magic's game-day shootaround on Tuesday, in advance of Orlando's game against the Miami Heat, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Marc Stein is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Chris Broussard is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Ric Bucher of ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com's Michael Wallace contributed to this report.