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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Magic general manager Otis Smith said Wednesday the team’s goal remains to keep Dwight Howard in a Magic uniform as long as they possibly can and that the trade talks “could go to the end of the season.”

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Smith would not say whether trade talks for the center are off, but did say there was no deal in place.

“We’re at the same place we’ve always been,” Smith said. “We don’t have a deal until we have a deal. Right now we still have him in a Magic uniform, and that’s where we expect him to be until that changes.”

Howard, who is entering the last year of his contract, confirmed over the weekend that he had requested a trade to New Jersey, Dallas or the Los Angeles Lakers. However, the 26-year-old center has since publicly softened his stance, saying he would be amenable to remaining in Orlando.

The Magic have said they will not risk losing Howard without compensation, which means they must either sign him or trade him before the March deadline. However, Smith said they could keep Howard beyond that.

“As I’ve said, our objective is to keep him in a Magic uniform as long as we possibly can,” Smith said. “With that said, we could go to the end of the season.”

Howard tried to deflect all trade questions Wednesday.

“Nobody will understand what I’m going through, what we as players have to go through, night in and night out, unless you’re a player,” he said. “I could write a book of all the stuff I’ve heard from teammates. Other guys around the league hear it. A lot of people have called me to make sure I stayed off my Twitter, my Facebook, so I don’t have to go through (the public reaction).

“But it’s a process, and I think I’m doing a great job of not letting it affect who I am. At one point it was, but I’m not going to let that affect me . . . It’s been a roller coaster, but I’m enjoying it. I’m going on a good ride.”

And it could be a long one.

Though there are reports that the Nets have been trying to engineer a multiple-team trade to get Howard, Smith indicated nothing is imminent.

“I think we’re going to continue to talk to every team out there, but that doesn’t mean anything is going to happen,” he said.

Coach Stan Van Gundy said the Magic’s practice sessions have been relatively free of distractions. They open a two-game preseason at Miami Sunday night and will open the regular season on Dec. 25 at Oklahoma City.

“I was kind of expecting this,” guard J.J. Redick said. “I knew that there would be this cloud of uncertainty around Dwight because I saw what happened last year with Carmelo (Anthony), I saw what happened the year before that with LeBron (James), and Dwight is obviously in their league of superstardom. So there’s going to be a lot of attention until something happens.”

With the hammer of free agency, Howard appears to be in control of what happens. But for now, at least, it seems the Magic can control when anything happens.

“Dwight and I have talked about this. He has a great heart and he genuinely wants to please people, whether that’s fans, teammates, our management, our coaches. He wants to be well-liked,” Redick said. “Anytime you run into a situation like this, people take things personally. If he was to get traded, I think people would take that as a knock on Orlando.

“Dwight recognizes and knows that this city has been great for him and he’s been great for this city. My hope is that he will continue to be great for this city.”


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