ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Magic fans will get a glimpse of the present and a possible future Friday when Orlando hosts the Los Angeles Lakers.
Center Dwight Howard’s preseason trade request left fans bracing for the worst at the start of the regular season. Howard’s agent Dan Fegan is permitted to explore trades with the Lakers, New Jersey and Dallas.
That puts a bigger spotlight on the matchup, given that the Lakers’ Andrew Bynum has been the subject of speculation around a Howard trade.
Magic general manager Otis Smith remains adamant he’s in no rush to deal Howard by the March 15 trade deadline. Smith said he and Howard haven’t gotten in-depth about his trade request since training camp.
Smith expects Howard and Bynum to have their minds on the court and nothing else.
“I think both of those guys are probably the best two centers in the business right now and will be competing against each other, so I don’t know if it’s anything bigger than that,” he said.
Howard said he’s focused on improving the Magic’s 10-4 record.
“This game is not about me and (Bynum), it’s about our team trying to get better to win,” Howard said. “That was a problem back when Shaquille O’Neal played. People tried to make it about me and him. That’s not the case. We’re just trying to play basketball and trying to win. The only thing that matters is who wins the game.”
Provisions in the new CBA give the Magic the ability to offer Howard $30 million more than any other team. Orlando can offer him a five-year contract extension with 7.5 percent annual raises, while other teams are tapped out at offering a four-year pact with only 4.5 percent raises.
So the Magic could keep Howard through the deadline or sign and trade him to the team of their choice.
“Or he could still walk…with a $30 million dollar haircut,” Smith said.
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said he thinks Howard and Bynum are more than equipped for the trade spotlight. He noted Howard has dealt with it all season and Bynum handled it when Bryant flirted with a trade request in 2007.
Howard said he’s focused on his job.
“I think most people wouldn’t allow whatever their situation is — especially what’s going on with me — to stop them from playing their normal way,” he said. “It’s just getting on the court and putting aside everything that’s going on outside and what people are saying, trade rumors or what team I’m going to…Just put it away and go play basketball.
“So when I get out there on the court, it’s go as hard as I can for as long as I can and trust my teammates when I get out there.”
Smith said the real pressure may be on teammate Jameer Nelson. Howard previously noted a desire to play alongside other point guards, including Chris Paul and Deron Williams.
Nelson and Howard are friends, both entering the league in 2004.
But Nelson has struggled this season, averaging a career-low 8.3 points and shooting career-low 38 percent from the field.
“He has to play better, of course. But through all of this, he is the one taking the pounding,” Smith said. “Right now, he’s justifying the pounding because he’s not playing well. But sometimes we forget in professional sports that they’re people. Regardless of what we talk about, they’re still human beings.”
Smith said Nelson is injury-free, other than foot issues he’s dealt with for several seasons.
“So as tough as he wants to be on the outside, on the inside — all of them — he’s just a 30-year-old kid,” he said. “He still has to work through the mental aspect of him taking a pounding. No, the center didn’t come out and directly say it’s on Jameer, but basically he has.”
Even with needed improvements, Smith said he likes the direction so far.
“A real good team has to overcome a lot of things,” he said. “A good team has to overcome a good player not being on par, a good team has to overcome a guy getting to the foul line a bunch of times and missing a lot of foul shots.
“So I imagine if we clear up those things, we’ll be a much better basketball team.”