- Chris Broussard, NBA analyst
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Dwight Howard has told several teammates, as well as members of the Orlando Magic organization, that he will not opt out of his contract at the end of this season, sources close to the situation said.
That would mean Howard would remain under contract in Orlando through the 2012-2013 season.
Howard has not signed a waiver of his early termination option at this point, which means nothing is guaranteed yet. Both Howard and his representation must sign the documentation.
This latest development comes one day after league sources with knowledge of the situation said Howard's public plea late Tuesday to remain in Orlando for the rest of the season only served to anger the Magic and has pushed them closer than ever to trading their superstar center.
Convinced that Howard, on the advice of his agent, is trying to manipulate the situation, the Magic are telling teams they will trade Howard before Thursday's 3 p.m. ET deadline if he does not commit to them beyond this season, league sources said.
"Dwight's dreaming if he thinks Orlando won't trade him without a commitment,'' a source said. "He needs to make some small commitment to them. They're saying it can't be one way.''
While the Magic would like Howard to sign a maximum extension that would keep him in Orlando through the 2014-2015 season, they would settle for a commitment from him to not opt out of the final year of his current contract. That would give the Magic more time to pull off a trade for a star to play beside him, enhancing their chances of keeping him long-term.
The tension between the two sides has grown. According to sources, the Magic are incensed with Howard's agent, Dan Fegan, who they believe has manipulated Howard and is the driving force behind his push to leave the franchise.
Until Howard and Fegan sign the necessary paperwork, the Magic will continue to pursue potential trades for Howard, according to sources.
ESPN the Magazine's Ric Bucher, citing sources, reported Tuesday that the club had given Howard the right to decide the fates of general manager Otis Smith and coach Stan Van Gundy. The team responded to that report with a brief statement asserting that only ownership would make such changes.
And the Magic believe Fegan's statement Tuesday afternoon, in which he denied Howard had asked for or wanted that power, was nothing but a ploy to put the team in a bad light.
Already bothered, Orlando was angered even more by Howard's comments after Tuesday's victory over Miami, when he said he wanted to stay with the Magic throughout the season. When asked about the risk the Magic would be taking by doing that, Howard said they should "roll the dice."
Howard said Tuesday night that he has talked with Magic owner Rich DeVos and other front-office executives the past two weeks about his desire to stay.
The Magic believe Howard is legitimately torn. But they also believe his comments Tuesday were a ploy to allow the New Jersey Nets, the team Howard requested a trade to in the preseason, to keep their players and assets, thereby enabling Howard to join a stronger Nets team this summer as a free agent, sources said.
Upset and ready to move Howard unless he changes his stance, the Magic have essentially told other teams -- most notably the Nets and the Los Angeles Lakers -- to let the bidding begin.
If it had its druthers, New Jersey indeed would sign Howard as a free agent in July and team him with Brook Lopez, MarShon Brooks and the other solid role players it would lose this week if it traded for Howard.
Even so, sources say the Nets are hoping to trade for Howard this week to bring certainty and closure to their situation. While they feel strongly about their chances of landing him as a free agent, they realize that nothing is certain in free agency and that Dallas is a real threat to sign both Howard and Nets point guard Deron Williams.
The Lakers have been active in talks around the league, mainly about trading Pau Gasol and adding a point guard, but sources say they are still interested in Howard as well.
The Knicks have discussed the deal internally but have been given no indication that Howard would remain with the Knicks long-term if the deal takes place. That being the case, they have thus far refused the temptation to engage Orlando in trade talks.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
5dEthan Sherwood Strauss
6dMatt Walks, ESPN.com