The Dwight Howard stay-or-go saga continues to drag on and on and on.
At this point, the only certainty in this soap opera is that it will feature more uncertainty. Each day seemingly presents one more juicy rumor.
Are you confused about what might happen?
If you are, let this be your guide to sorting out some possible scenarios.
HE STAYS . . .
All indications are that Howard wants his Magic tenure to end. There's no question that, from his perspective, his relationship with the franchise has deteriorated terribly since early April, when Howard wanted team officials to defend him from allegations that he wanted Stan Van Gundy fired.
But Howard has flip-flopped before, and it would not be a surprise if Magic officials try to convince Howard to remain long-term. Is it possible that the eventual coaching hire — maybe Michael Malone or Brian Shaw, whom Howard is said to like — could enthuse Howard to play for the team?
The Magic will begin their training camp in early October, and general manager Rob Hennigan says he has not ruled out having Howard begin camp with the team. Still, that scenario could create an exceedingly ugly and tense situation, especially if Howard says his surgically-repaired back isn't ready for basketball activities. That would put the Magic's new coach, whomever it turns out to be, in a difficult position.
The prospect of Howard beginning the season with the Magic — and potentially being booed whenever he steps inside Amway Center — could give the team some leverage with Howard. Perhaps that scenario would convince Howard into expanding his list of preferred trade destinations.
HE GETS TRADED TO . . .
The Houston Rockets are willing to acquire Howard without any assurance from him that he would remain beyond the 2012-13 season. Depending on their salary-cap situation, the Rockets could take on one or more of the Magic's long-term contracts — Chris Duhon's, Jason Richardson's, Quentin Richardson's and Hedo Turkoglu's come to mind — and could offer a mix of draft picks and young players and maybe Kevin Martin's expiring contract. A deal with Houston would enable Orlando to gain at least some cap flexibility.
The Los Angeles Lakers can offer All-Star center Andrew Bynum, and Bynum almost certainly is the best single player being offered to the Magic. But there is a significant hurdle: Magic officials are concerned about Bynum's knees. Plus, Bynum only has one more season remaining on his contract; before any two-team deal with the Lakers, the Magic probably would want some assurance that Bynum would consider remaining with the Magic long-term. A potential Lakers deal would become more attractive if a third team could be recruited to help take the Magic's current long-term contracts and provide the Magic with draft picks.
The Brooklyn Nets remain Howard's one, and only, preferred destination. But because of rules in the collective bargaining agreement, the Nets are not permitted to trade center Brook Lopez until Jan. 15. And since the Nets won't trade Deron Williams and since the Magic wouldn't want Joe Johnson's massive contract, the Nets won't be able to entice the Magic to a deal before then. If Howard somehow remains with Orlando through mid-January, the Nets would reemerge as a possibility. And if Howard is traded to Houston before the season, he could ask the Rockets to trade him to the Nets in mid-January.
ANOTHER TEAM STEPS IN . . .
The Magic would love to convince the Atlanta Hawks to send them power forward Al Horford and point guard Jeff Teague. But even though Howard grew up in Atlanta, he has shown no interest in playing for the Hawks. Without a commitment from him, it seems unlikely the Hawks would give up Horford and Teague. . . . The Dallas Mavericks could emerge as a destination for Howard, but the Mavs have few young players who would entice the Magic.
CONTRACT FACTS AND FIGURES . . .
There's another reason why Howard wants to join the Nets sooner rather than later. Any team that acquires him before the 2012-13 season's trade deadline and keeps him through the end of the season will own Howard's "Bird rights" when Howard is scheduled to become a free agent in July 2013. That team will be able to offer him a five-year deal worth a total of almost $117 million, according to salary-cap expert Larry Coon. Any other team bidding on him in free agency would, at most, be able to offer Howard only a four-year deal worth about $86.8 million. To be sure, the differences between a four-year contract and a five-year contract can be overstated. But after his back injury, Howard now might be more interested in the additional security that a five-year contract can provide.