Despite having the third-best record in the east, the Orlando Magic are full of uncertainty. Dwight Howard has somehow kept them playing well, despite making it clear that he wants out of town. With the trade deadline coming up next Thursday, the decision about where Howard will play for the rest of the 2012 season will be made very soon.
Although just a few weeks ago it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Howard would be traded, things have changed recently. Now the Magic seem more inclined to try to make things work with Howard and keep him in Orlando. Their hope is that Howard can get them a championship or close to one this season and that he'll have a change of heart that will cause him to re-sign with them this summer.
But could it be possible that the Magic have different intentions? By appearing as though they have no interest in trading Howard, the Magic could make some desperate team offer a little more to get him. The Magic could then change their minds and enjoy the benefits of a lopsided trade.
Regardless of what happens with Howard, Orlando likely has what it takes to get into the playoffs. At 25-15, the Magic are second in the Southeast and look to be in range of a three or four seed. Of course without Howard, their tournament chances severely decrease, and they could possibly descend all the way to a seven or eight seed.
One thing the Magic have to be grateful for is that whatever happens next week, the Dwight Howard saga will finally be over. It's amazing that the team has still kept it together and won games despite all the turmoil inside the locker room.
Here are some of the teams that could possibly land Howard should Orlando trade him next week.
This could be the best option for Howard. The defending champions lost Tyson Chandler to the New York Knicks before the season started, and they could still use a high quality starting center. Howard would provide that for them and he would also have less responsibility as he would be playing with a good team that has more than one star player.
However, there is a more intriguing option that could happen to the Mavericks next season. By making some moves with their current roster, Dallas could then offer max-level contracts to both Dwight Howard and Deron Williams. This move could potentially create the Mavericks own super-team and make them strong championship favorites.
Mavericks beat writer Eddie Selfko has said he considers Dallas the favorites to landing Williams and Howard this offseason. The key word though is this offseason because it would be hard to get these two players before the deadline with all the players Dallas has under contract. During the offseason, Mark Cuban could move Shawn Marion, which could put the Mavericks in position to make their moves on Howard and Williams.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Dwight Howard to Los Angeles Lakers rumors have been heating up for almost a whole year now. It's a team that makes sense for both parties involved since the Lakers would get a strong supporting player for Kobe Bryant, while Howard gets to play on a good team and the added benefit of playing in a city like Los Angeles.
Yet despite all these things, it seems very likely this trade will not happen. Howard has talked about building his own brand which is something that will literally be impossible playing with Bryant.
If Howard did come to L.A., Mike Brown would need to create some kind of system that would please both superstars. Both Bryant and Howard would not be afraid to complain if they felt they weren't getting the ball enough. And that's not the kind of headache that any coach would want to deal with.
New Jersey Nets
Although they are not a good team right now, the Nets are currently the favorite to land Howard. This goes back to the brand thing, as Howard feels that he could leverage the international influence of Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov to make himself a global star. It would also help that Howard would be playing during the Nets' first season in Brooklyn which would give him the opportunity to become the city's first star.
Like with the Mavericks rumor, Howard could also team up with Williams should he go to the Nets. The two players would like to play together since they became friends during their time together on Team USA.
For now the Nets seem to be the most likely team to land Howard if he leaves in the next week. He seems like a natural fit for the bright lights of New York and the boost it would give his brand.
Finally, there's always the chance that nothing happens during the trade deadline and Howard simply stays in Orlando. It might be the most boring move, but it could also be the right one.
Even with thin depth behind Howard, the Magic are the most well equipped of the aforementioned teams to win a championship this season. Since the Magic want Howard to stay, they might even be prepared to bring in a better player to help Howard. There are rumors that the Magic could bring in Golden State Warriors shooting guard Monta Ellis or Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash.
Although things could change, many NBA experts seem confident that Howard will not be going anywhere. Of course, this doesn't really provide any certainty about the offseason, but at least then Howard and Orlando can get back to focusing on winning basketball games.