SAN ANTONIO (AP) - Dwight Howard doesn't know if this was his last game with Orlando. One thing's for certain in his mind: It's up to the Magic now whether to trade him.
After what Howard told them Wednesday, that agonizing prospect may have gotten easier.
Losing possibly his last game in a Magic uniform, Howard again urged the front office following a 122-111 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on the eve of the trade deadline to take a chance and keep him the rest of the season, rather than pulling the trigger on their last chance to get something in return for the NBA's best big man.
Howard isn't giving any guarantee he'll stick around. He told the front office before the game that he will not terminate the early termination option in his contract, and his refusal to give the Magic the ultimate assurance he'll be back may weaken Orlando's hesitation to trade their superstar.
``They know how I feel. I've expressed that to my teammates. I expressed that to the ownership. It's on them now,' Howard said. ``I've done my job. I haven't changed and despite whatever is being said, I'm still that same person. So, if you want to scrutinize me for taking care of Dwight, that's fine.'
Howard, who had 22 points and 12 rebounds, said he didn't know if he played his last game with the Magic.
``They took a chance on me at 18, when everybody else said, `No, don't do it,'' said Howard, whom the Magic drafted with the top pick out of high school in 2004. ``They look stupid at first, but look now. It's the same situation. That's it. I understand their situation. I understand mine, too.'
Neither general manager Otis Smith nor team president Alex Martins made the trip to Texas.
The trade deadline is 3 p.m. Thursday.
Before the game, Howard called a players-only meeting in San Antonio, though neither Howard nor his teammates were too forthcoming about what was discussed.
``He just said that he believes that this team has a chance to win a championship,' Magic guard J.J. Redick said. ``You know, I felt that way all year long. That was it.'
Lost in the drama surrounding Howard was the Spurs' best win on an uneven seven-game homestand. Tony Parker had 31 points and 12 assists, and Tim Duncan had 21 points and 13 rebounds.
Parker, averaging 29.8 points in his last four games, was serenaded by chants of ``M-V-P! M-V-P!' in the closing minutes.
``He's been the guy for us all year long and he's controlling the game,' Duncan said. ``He's making the right passes and the right shots when he has to. He's been unbelievable.'
Howard's decision to not to surrender his opt-out clause was first reported by ESPN.
As the hours leading up to the trade deadline tick down, the Magic are looking for stronger assurances they can realistically hang onto the NBA's most dominant big man. If the Magic don't trade Howard, they risk the 26-year-old signing elsewhere and getting nothing in return for a perennial All-Star hitting his prime. It's a scenario the franchise is loath to repeat after Shaquille O'Neal did the same in 1996.
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy batted down questions about Howard's future.
``I don't even want to talk about it. It's so tiresome,' Van Gundy said before the game. ``I've been dealing with this for three months. Nothing's fresh to me. Talk to somebody else about it.'
Jameer Nelson scored 25 points and Ryan Anderson added 19 for Orlando. Hedo Turkoglu scored 17.
Howard asked the Magic to trade him before the season, but has since rescinded that request. He said after Tuesday's night overtime win against Miami that his change of heart wasn't new.
The Magic are 28-16 and 7 games behind first-place Chicago. Howard is averaging 21.2 points and a career-best 15.2 rebounds.
``They know how I feel about the city. I've sat down with them on numerous occasions and talked about what we can do together, but I can't do it all by myself,' Howard said about his teammates. ``You know, I want them to help. I want them to be involved with changing Orlando. That's always been my goal.'
Provisions in the league's new collective bargaining agreement give the Magic the ability to offer Howard $30 million more than any other team if he becomes a free agent. Orlando can offer him a five-year contract extension with 7.5 percent annual raises, while other teams are tapped out at offering a four-year pact with only 4.5 percent raises.
Manu Ginobili returned to the bench while recovering from a hip flexor, scoring 14 points in 23 minutes. Rookie Kawhi Leonard had 12 points and Richard Jefferson added 11.
Parker was 12 of 21 from the floor and scored 31 for a second consecutive game.
The Spurs have their own trade-deadline decision to make - albeit of far more trivial consequence. The abrupt retirement of T.J. Ford this week leaves San Antonio without a backup point guard, and the Spurs have played down one frontcourt player all season after Antonio McDyess decided to call it quits on his 17-year career. The likelihood of a Spurs trade, however, is dim with the team already paying the NBA's luxury tax.
Notes: Magic F Jason Richardson (ankle sprain) missed his third consecutive game. ...The Spurs ended their seven-game homestand at 4-3.
The Associated Press News Service
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