Sources: Houston's Howard pursuit takes Linsane twist

Sources: Houston’s Howard pursuit takes Linsane twist

(Updated July 15, 12 AM ET)

ORLANDO – At this time next week,  the Dwightmare may not be over.

This is a change from Friday’s report, which detailed Orlando’s Dwight Howard would finally be moved to Houston, but NBA business delays keep pushing back the timetable. Houston was seemingly creating income for the league coffers by forcing the Knicks deep into the luxury tax three years from now with a toxic offer for Jeremy Lin.

As a result, New York took a passive-aggressive approach against Houston by avoiding the offer sheet. The Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen reported that  multiple attempts to deliver Lin’s offer sheet Friday failed, as the Knicks are returning the passive-aggressive sentiment by tying up the Rockets as long as possible. The three-day clock has been reported to have finally started after GM Glen Grunwald received Houston’s sheet in Las Vegas, giving New York until Tuesday at 11:59.

Further complicating matters is that New York  agreed to acquire Raymond Felton and Kurt Thomas from Portland on Saturday night, according to the NY Daily News. It’s always been considered a formality that Lin’s offer sheet would be matched, allowing the Knicks to capitalize on his marketing rights.

Sources that have been right all along on this — check the Twitter timeline starting Sunday, July 8 — believe the Houston Rockets will be able to finalize facilitation of the Orlando Magic’s coveted rebuilding strategy shortly after Chicago center Omer Asik’s situation is settled.

Asik’s situation will be clarified following Lin’s, which I still expect to be  matched by the Knicks despite luxury tax implications.

Asik was promised a three-year, $25 million offer sheet that Rockets GM Daryl Morey will make good on, which would affect just how many of the contracts new Magic GM Rob Hennigan wants to move can be absorbed. Regardless of what happens with Lin, look for the Bulls to take an additional three days starting Wednesday after getting Asik’s offer sheet.

The Rockets will then finally have a clear indication of what it can do for Orlando to acquire Howard.

Houston officially requested amnesty of Luis Scola on Friday afternoon to begin the process of clearing space for major re-structuring. Plan A has always been to wind up with Howard.  A plan in which both Lin and Asik wound up as Rockets was never considered a realistic possibility, but rather a strategic move that held futury luxury tax implications.

The Magic are interested in clearing Jason Richardson, Glen Davis, Chris Duhon, Quentin Richardson’s and Hedo Turkoglu’s – contracts, likely in that order despite the fact Turkoglu is due the largest salary, 11.82 this season and a $12 million player option that will be taken in ’13-’14.  The thought is his expiring deal could be an asset at that point.

Kevin Martin’s $12 million expiring contract will be the major piece the Rockets send over, but the Magic would be able to choose from a collection of prospects including local product Chandler Parsons, Patrick Patterson, Marcus Morris and 2012 draft picks Jeremy Lamb, Royce White and Terrence Jones to accompany him in the deal. Future draft picks will also move, with the lottery-guaranteed selection the Rockets are getting from Toronto in the Kyle Lowry deal being especially coveted.

If Chicago allows Asik to walk, sources say the steal could still be re-worked to appease Orlando enough to end the saga.

Reports that the Rockets aren’t willing to take on so much salary if they’re also dealing considerable assets can be taken as a shrewd pre-emptive strike from a negotiation standpoint, but if Houston whiffs on both Lin and Asik, it really has little choice considering the franchise’s desire to utilize its assets to land a franchise-type player like Howard.

Reports that a deal will happen for Oklahoma City’s James Harden, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins may as well be fairy tales. The Lakers interest in a transaction would hinge on Andrew Bynum changing his mind on signing long-term in Orlando, something sources say he’s opposed to. The Cavaliers have been rumored to be part of discussions, but those have been termed as speculative and preliminary, based on sources. Bynum has expressed interest in a long-term deal in Houston or Cleveland if a deal for Howard is struck, but that’s more likely to happen in-season, if at all.

Houston’s motivation to deal hinges on making use of Martin’s sizeable contract and coming up with at the very least, a trade chip in Howard that can potentially net Bynum, Brook Lopez, Al Horford or assets from another team willing to rent Howard at the trade deadline.

Howard could spend ’12-’13 in limbo as a mercenary depending how everything unfolds, fallout from a questionable decision to opt-in on March 15. 

The Rockets would love nothing more than for him to warm up to H-town, where he’s got an existing friendly relationship with Hakeem Olajuwon and can learn a ton from head coach Kevin McHale. That would take some convincing, of course, but with an eject button in place, this isn’t as large a gamble as most would think.

Remember, Morey already traded Martin and Scola once, netting an aging Pau Gasol in a deal voided by Commissioner David Stern. Gasol would’ve been an upgrade, but wouldn’t have been as attractive a commodity as Howard will be, even as a rental coming off back surgery. Morey has been looking for an elite center since Yao Ming was forced to retire, and regardless of all the foolishness and drama in this Brooklyn-or-bust campaign, would be getting the game’s best. No one questions Howard’s professionalism once he hits the floor. After all, he aggravated his back injury in a memorable effort in Philadelphia where no one could question his commitment.

Again, this has been the most likely scenario since Sunday, when sources informed PBN that Howard wouldn’t end up with the Nets in spite of all the reports that a deal was imminent. On Monday, July 9, I reported via Twitter that the Rockets  were “ready to throw more kindle into fire for Magic, further exhausting process for Magic, who obviously covet additional options.”

Sources say the Magic simply were never blown away by the tireless leg work the Nets put into making a deal work, balking at the prospect of bringing in Lopez as an anchor for the franchise. Lopez eventually re-signed with the Nets for four years, $61 million.

Howard was reportedly telling his circle that the Magic would get a deal done for him to get him to Brooklyn after a face-to-face meeting with Magic management where he again expressed his interest to help open the Barclays Center. Whatever assurances were given are unknown, but Hennigan has been consistent that nothing has come before doing “what’s best for the organization.”

Undoubtedly, the Magic heard the backlash from fans who watched all the reports whizzing through the air waves and social media which railed against the prospect of granting Howard’s wishes for a marginal package. Purely speculation, but that probably didn’t help Brooklyn’s cause.

Hennigan’s vision all along, outside of landing a comparable talent like Bynum, was to regain cap flexibility and add draft picks with new salary cap regulations coming into play in ’13-’14. Houston seemed poised to help him get started on the right foot, but all that is now up in the air.


Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA