After beating LA, Magic may call Howard's bluff

After beating LA, Magic may call Howard's bluff

Published Jan. 20, 2012 11:13 p.m. ET

ORLANDO, Fla. — Despite the daily chatter about Dwight Howard's trade demand, the Orlando Magic are seriously exploring the option now of calling his bluff, believing he can't walk away from the extra $28-$30 million in guaranteed money they can pay him — and no one else can — in his next contract.

Friday night's victory over the Los Angeles Lakers and center Andrew Bynum just added fuel to the belief that Howard's trade demand — to the Lakers, Nets or Mavericks — will fall on deaf ears.

Bynum is the second-best center in the league, and the one most-discussed in potential trade scenarios, but he is so inferior to Howard that equal value will be impossible to receive — unless Kobe Bryant is thrown into the deal, too.

Despite what Shaquille O'Neal — the Big Agitator — has been spouting on TNT — that Bynum is a better center today — Howard has no peer in today's NBA. And the Magic know it.

The Magic have become more brazen in their belief they should roll the dice, allowing Howard to become a free agent this summer, where he can choose to leave — at a  very significant reduction in guaranteed money.

"He can still walk," Magic general manager Otis Smith said Friday afternoon. "But with a $30 million haircut."

To stay in Orlando, under terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, Howard can sign a five-year deal worth $110 million. To play anywhere else — unless he is traded there first — it will be four years and $80.5 million.

The safest path for the Magic might be taking the best trade available before the March 15 trade deadline, and get something to show in return, but it makes no sense. Smith is leaning toward the all-or-nothing route, knowing recent NBA history — that no free agent superstar ever has left that much guaranteed money on the table.

"The Magic letting this thing ride out is a very real possibility now," said one executive from another Eastern Conference team.

Behind Howard's dominance, the Magic (11-4) smothered the Lakers, 92-80, Friday night. He finished with 21 points and 23 rebounds, failing to impress Coach Stan Van Gundy, who takes it for granted, but overwhelming Bynum, who is expected to be the starting center for the Western Conference All-Stars next month.

"We're so used to this," Van Gundy said. "It's what he's been doing all along. He's like my security blanket. I just feel good when he's out there."

It was the third time in the last five games that Howard has finished with at least 20 points and 20 rebounds. Bynum, meanwhile, had 10 points and 12 rebounds, a decent night that only accentuated how much more athletic and durable and consistent Howard is.

Bynum is having the best season of his NBA career, and he isn't even close.

"This was one game, and I wouldn't put much stock into one game, however it turned out," Van Gundy said. "Look at Dwight's whole body of work. He is a future Hall of Famer. He is the best there is."

Bynum played only 26 minutes because of foul trouble, which was inevitable trying to guard Howard without enough double-team help. By halftime, when the game was won, Howard had 10 points and 15 rebounds. Bynum had one point and three rebounds.

The Lakers never got closer than eight points in the second half, struggling to shoot and sluggish on their feet. Throughout much of the game, Howard was outrunning, out jumping and out muscling Bynum.  He isn't just the best center in basketball. He is the most durable, missing only seven games combined in seven seasons. Bynum has played more than 65 of the 82 games only once in his previous six seasons.

Howard was hitting running hooks with his right hand, and hooks with his left, making O'Neal's claims look silly. O'Neal, who retired after last season, played for both the Magic and the Lakers, never missing a chance a chance to tweak Howard, who stole his Superman nickname earlier than O'Neal wanted to give it up.

"I'd suggest he (Shaq) just sit down and get on with his life," Howard said Friday. "He doesn't play anymore. What's the point of talking trash. It's not like we're wrestlers and can battle it out."

Howard deflected any talk of the matchup with Bynum both before and after the game. The trade chatter, he declined to discuss, showing no signs of discontent where he is. His agent has the Magic's permission to talk with the three teams he suggested, but his agent has not delivered anything close to a trade the Magic like. That's because there isn't one out there.

"We'll cross that bridge when the time comes," Howard said. "My job now is to help this team win."