AP Photo/John Raoux
The Magic plan to try to handle Dwight Howard’s recent trade demand in a similar fashion to how the Lakers dealt with Kobe Bryant’s high-profile demand in 2007.
Orlando will field offers for their All-Star center but they also will take their time in an attempt to rebuild their relationship and improve the strength of their team.
As part of that strategy, sources told ESPN.com, the Magic currently do not plan to trade Howard.
New Magic CEO Alex Martins met with Howard when he arrived at Amway Center Monday morning. Afterward Howard sounded like he’d softened on the possibility of staying in Orlando as long as there are some changes.
“I love this city, there is no place I’d rather be but Orlando,” Howard said. “I just want to make sure we have the right things here so we can win a championship. I’m all about change. If you’re willing to change and you’re willing to do what it takes to win then, you know, you got me.”
One of the “changes” Howard wants, sources told ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, is the signing of guard Chauncey Billups.
Should Billups clear waivers Monday at 6 p.m., after being released Friday by the New York Knicks through the amnesty clause in the league’s new labor agreement, sources say Howard will lobby Billups to spurn offers from the Miami Heat and sign with the Magic instead to give them a steady veteran hand.
It’s no secret that Dwight Howard is conflicted right now. That much is certain, given that he’s been flip-flopping on staying or leaving recently. But again, the question is whether or not the Orlando Magic can do enough to compel Howard to stay?
Howard has made it abundantly clear that he loves the city of Orlando and wants to remain in a Magic uniform. However, Howard wants to win and needs help doing so. As such, it’s been reported that Howard wants Chauncey Billups to sign with the Magic if he’s able to clear waivers.
Despite turning 35 years old in September, Chauncey Billups — recently waived by the New York Knicks using the amnesty provision — still performed at a borderline All-Star level last season in his combined stints with the Denver Nuggets and the Knicks. Billups’ defense is nowhere near what it once was when he was a member of the Detroit Pistons but Howard can mask anyone’s deficiencies defensively so that’s a minor concern.
What makes Billups an appealing fit is that he’s precisely the middle-usage, high-efficiency type of player the Magic need on offense. Howard is going to be the center of the universe when it comes to what Orlando does offensively, but Billups can flank him with support in an efficient manner. That’s important. Likewise, Billups’ shot-creating abilities may not be dynamic but they’re effective, and he still gets to the free-throw line plenty of times (averaged 6.5 free-throw attempts per game in 2011) even though he’s gotten older as a player. Billups’ ability to execute pick-and-rolls also is a desirable trait, given that head coach Stan Van Gundy relies on that play type a lot in the Magic’s offense. And lastly, Billups is one of the active leaders in free-throw shooting percentage. Orlando is a team that’s always struggled at the free-throw line with Howard on the roster, so to have one of the best free-throw shooters in the NBA certainly doesn’t hurt.
But most importantly, the Magic would be acquiring Billups for nothing. Orlando isn’t exactly overflowing with assets at the moment, so for general manager Otis Smith to have the opportunity to acquire Billups without having to give up anything in return makes this a no-brainer decision. It all comes down to whether or not Billups clears waivers, and if Howard can do enough convincing to get him to sign with the Magic.
If, and this is a major ‘if’ at this point, Orlando is able to sign Billups as a free agent, he should be the starting point guard. Yes, that means that Jameer Nelson would come off the bench as Billups’ back-up or he could even be traded if the Magic feel they need to continue amassing more talent. Even though Nelson might be a little overpaid (his contract is $7.8 million this season), he’s a movable piece. Again, none of this matters if Billups doesn’t clear waivers or Howard is unable to lure him to sign with Orlando. However, it’s certainly a debate that will rage on with Magic fans if it ever gets to that point.
UPDATE: The Los Angeles Clippers have claimed Billups off amnesty waivers.