Even as the NBA launched into damage-control mode Friday over commissioner David Stern's rejection of a trade sending Chris Paul to the Lakers, another firestorm started. The Orlando Magic were considering tampering charges against the New Jersey Nets, front office sources confirmed to CBSSports.com.
The charges would stem from an alleged meeting between Dwight Howard and Nets representatives in Miami in recent days as New Jersey prepared a blockbuster trade offer to land the All-Star center. ESPN.com reported that the meeting was attended by Howard, some of his business associates, Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov and Nets general manager Billy King.
Howard told ESPN.com, "There was no meeting." Prokhorov's spokeswoman, Ellen Pinchuk, did not respond to a request for comment, but King issued a statement Friday echoing Howard's denial.
"Contrary to published reports," King said, "the New Jersey Nets did not meet with Dwight Howard."
UPDATE: The Magic on Friday night gave Howard's agent, Dan Fegan, permission to speak with three teams -- the Lakers, Nets and Mavericks -- about a potential trade, a person familiar with the decision told CBSSports.com. But at the time of the reported meeting between Howard and Prokhorov, no permission had been given, the person said.
"I've seen the report, but I have no idea whether he met with them or not," Magic CEO Alex Martins said. "And so we'll certainly look into that. But at this stage, it's just a report."
Orlando's goal remains to retain Howard, but the organization has made the decision that it will not suffer the same fate as when Shaquille O'Neal left as a free agent in 1996 and the team received nothing in return. Also, Magic GM Otis Smith will not have Howard's destination in a trade dictated to him by Howard or his agent, a person with knowledge of the organization's strategy told CBSSports.com.
It was a second straight day of buffoonery for the NBA as it tried, and failed miserably, to shake off the effects of a five-month lockout and launch abbreviated training camps and free agency Friday. The season starts in 16 days, and two of the league's biggest stars evidently are frozen in their cities while other teams struggled to field enough bodies to hold training-camp practices.
"Bizarre," said one general manager who was navigating the madness.
The league does not investigate possible instances of tampering unless it receives a specific charge from one of its teams. The aspects of the rules that would apply to Howard's alleged meeting with Nets officials is that teams are not permitted to speak with players under contract with another team without that team's permission. The Magic evidently had no knowledge of whether Howard was meeting with Nets officials, though Orlando GM Otis Smith would certainly be well aware of the Nets' desire to acquire their superstar.
Since joining half the league in clearing 2010 cap space and failing to land one of the top free agents last summer, the Nets pursued and failed to land Carmelo Anthony, who ultimately was traded to the Knicks. New Jersey responded by sending Derrick Favors, Devin Harris and two first-round picks to Utah for star point guard Deron Williams, whom they are now feverishly working to build around and keep him from leaving as a free agent after the 66-game 2011-12 season. In addition to preparing a trade offer for Howard that would include center Brook Lopez and two first-round picks, the Nets also were courting Nene and were telling some teams Friday they were closing in on the free-agent big man.
Several people on the periphery of the discussions said Friday night that, by all appearances, the Nets were closer to landing Nene than trading for Howard.
Howard has been careful not to publicly request or demand a trade. But his close associates have insisted for more than a year that Howard was looking to land in a marquee market, with Los Angeles and New York at the top of his list for obvious reasons. The Nets, who are moving to Brooklyn for the 2012-13 season, would fit Howard's desires, sources have told CBSSports.com.
As if that weren't enough news for one team for one day, the Magic also announced Friday they were waiving guard Gilbert Arenas and using the collective bargaining agreement's new amnesty provision to wipe the $19.3 million he is due this season off their cap and tax. Teams that are under the cap will have a chance to bid on assuming a certain percentage of Arenas' contract, with the winning team's bid offsetting Orlando's financial obligation to the former All-Star.