Denton: Howard Not Distracted With Nets in Town

By John Denton
December 28, 2011

ORLANDO – Enjoying a rare night off in this stretch of four games in five nights to start the season, Orlando Magic star center Dwight Howard said he watched the New Jersey-Atlanta game with his television muted on Tuesday.

Howard said his motives were merely to scout the upcoming opponent – the Magic host the Nets on Thursday at 7 p.m. – and that he wasn’t checking out one of the three teams he’s asked to be traded to. And because he had the volume turned down on the television, Howard said he didn’t hear the chants from the New Jersey fans asking for a Howard trade to the Nets.

With the Magic and Nets set to collide Thursday at the Amway Center, it could very well produce some drama and intrigue of the highest order, which is saying something considering some of the diva-like characters in the league. But as he was peppered with one after another on Wednesday regarding the Nets and his friendship with Deron Williams, Howard did his best to downplay the circus atmosphere that could engulf Thursday night’s game.

``It’s just a basketball game,’’ Howard said when asked if the Nets game took on any special significance because of the potential trade scenarios. ``We’re not talking about the Nets right now. We’re talking about the Magic. That’s the team that I play for and there’s no need to talk about any other team or who is interested in them. So I’m not going to get into a discussion about it.’’

Locked in a stretch of six consecutive games against teams that failed to make the playoffs last season, the Magic (1-1) are simply looking to stockpile victories while battling through the hectic schedule. After Thursday, the Magic play in Charlotte on Friday and then play another back-to-back at home against Toronto on Sunday and in Detroit on Monday. Two more home games come before Orlando ventures to the West Coast for its first extended roadtrip of the season.

Magic coach Stan Van Gundy brushed off many of the questions about Thursday’s game being a distraction to Orlando because of the circus-like atmosphere created by Howard’s trade request. The Magic have given Howard’s agent, Dan Fegan, permission to work out the parameters of a potential deal with the Nets, Lakers or Mavericks, but no deal has gone down in the three weeks since the trade request was issued. Part of that is the Magic’s belief that they can retain Howard by having a solid 2011-12 season and continuing to add dynamic pieces around him.

``I guess there’s something that could happen, but not much in the NBA will surprise me,’’ Van Gundy said. ``There are always trade rumors, but I guess this one is a little different because (Howard) has named the teams he’d like to play for. But in this league there are always distractions and unhappy players, but it’s a matter of how you overcome those distractions.’’

New Jersey was throttled 106-70 by the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday, promting many of the home fans to break out with chants of ``We Want Dwight!’’ The Nets are without center Brook Lopez, who recently underwent surgery for a stress fracture in his ankle and is expected to miss two months of the season.

Not only did Howard say he didn’t hear the chants by the Nets fans, he also joked that he hears the ``We Want Dwight!’ cries almost everywhere he goes in Orlando, including last week when he took in a game at Rollins College in nearby Winter Park.

``No, I had the game on mute,’’ Howard said, referring to the Hawks-Nets rout. ``I don’t know what was going on. They were saying (my name) at Rollins the other day, too. They wanted me to come out there and work out again. It’s pretty cool hearing it at Rollins.’’

Howard is close friends with Williams, the all-star point guard whom the Nets acquired last February in a blockbuster trade with Utah. Howard and Williams became friends when they played together on Team USA’s gold medal-winning squad in the 2008 Summer Olympics. The two usually communicate over the phone or via Twitter a couple of times a week, but Howard downplayed the role that the friendship might have on his NBA future.

``Me and Deron have talked for a couple of years because we did play together in the Olympics. But I’ve talked to a lot of guys, not just Deron,’’ Howard said. ``I’ve talked to Jameer (Nelson), (former Magic guard) Gilbert (Arenas), Big Baby (Davis) and a lot of guys. Everybody wants to get together and play basketball, but as of right now the only game that matters is this next game and coming out and getting the job done.’’

Williams demolished the Magic in two games with Utah last season. He sparked a comeback from an 18-point deficit with 30 points, 14 assists and five rebounds. And in Utah, he hammered Orlando for 32 points and nine more assists. He doesn’t have nearly as many weapons in New Jersey, but the Magic know he will present a threat.

``He’s a big guard at 6-5 and he can see over the defense, pass, score and he’s pretty fast,’’ Howard said of Williams. ``So Deron presents a lot of challenges for defenses because of his size and he can do so many different things.’’

John Denton writes for John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at

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