Report: Rockets were last in Howard sweepstakes, still want in

AP Photo/DayLifeThe Magic were very close to trading Dwight Howard before this year’s trade deadline. Before his change of heart (the third or fourth time) and his waiver of his early termination option, the Magic were prepared to sever ties with their franchise center and move on.

The report and rumor was that the Magic intended to trade Howard to the Lakers and told him such, knowing he did not want to go to L.A. and become Shaquille O’Neal all over again (and perhaps other rumored disagreements with Kobe Bryant).

Maybe that is just a rumor. Orlando though is very much considering trading Howard again. The franchise is looking for a resolution to this whole scenario this summer. Magic CEO Alex Martins made it clear that the organization would not go through the “will-he, won’t-he” drama that unfolded this season.

No decision has been announced regarding the future of general manager Otis Smith or head coach Stan Van Gundy despite Magic front office officials and owners and managers holding a meeting Wednesday and, according to several reports, meeting and evaluating Smith during that meeting.

The running assumption is that the organization is waiting to hear from Dwight Howard and get a feel for where he is before making a decision on their futures (especially Stan Van Gundy’s). Howard has not said much since going to Los Angeles for his back surgery. What he has talked about is how difficult it was for him to make his decision to stay for the rest of the year and to keep playing in Orlando.

Call this a soft opening for the Dwight Howard sweepstakes once again. And a somewhat familiar character is ready for the full opening.

The Rockets blog Clutch Fans reports that Houston was the last team alive in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes (not the Lakers or the Nets) and were offering Orlando its two first round picks and just about anyone else on the roster Orlando might want. Think of it as a Nuggets-like haul from the Knicks in the Carmelo Anthony deal.

The deal was apparently close enough to getting done that a source told Clutch Fans that Rockets general manager went to bed on the morning of March 15 believing Howard would be in a Rockets uniform by the end of the day.

AP Photo/DayLifeIn March, the Rockets remained steadfast in their willingness to “rent” Howard and stayed involved in talks with the Magic. At the Toyota Center on trade deadline day after the dust cleared, I was told that Rockets GM Daryl Morey was the last one standing in the Howard chase. Weeks later I was informed that when Rockets front office personnel called it a night in the wee hours of the morning of the trade deadline, they believed they were going to land Howard later that day. The 6-foot-11 center reversed course and agreed to not exercise his opt-out clause to become a free agent, instead staying with the Magic for another year.

It wasn’t until this week that we could say it definitively — multiple sources tell ClutchFans that had Dwight not opted in, he was coming to Houston in a trade.

That is quite a stunning revelation. And it shows that the Magic were, in fact, looking for the deal best for them and their franchise and not trying to send Howard to one of the three teams besides the Magic he was interested in signing longterm. It might be a little bit of a reach/conspiracy theory, but Clutch Fans believes that the Magic’s willingness to send Howard to a rental team was one of the reasons Howard decided to opt in. Only Howard could speak to that.

He no longer has that option, of course. And the Magic are not going to have the same patience. Either Howard signs a long-term extension this summer or he will; no longer be playing for the Magic.

The Rockets are expected to re-enter the conversation and certainly still have the kind of players and flexibility the Magic would be looking for in a league. More than that Houston wants to return to the playoffs and climb out of the middling form that has plagued the franchise for some time.

Remember also, Orlando as a franchise does not appear to be looking to bottom out and play the draft and rebuild game again. This is a team that has to fill an arena entering its third year of use and wants to remain competitive enough to win a championship. That might be delusional, but that is the reality for Orlando as a franchise right now.

Of course, first the Magic have to make some decisions about their future. Decisions they have yet to make. Nothing can happen for the Magic or the Rockets until then.

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily