Orlando • Center Dwight Howard played gracious host for All-Star weekend, throwing parties, gushing over the city and directing focus on the event.
He did his best to make sure the weekend was not about him.
The Orlando Magic center, who can become a free agent after this season, deftly deflected questions about his future. He asked for a trade at the beginning of the season, but told USA Today two weeks ago that remaining with the Magic is "a big possibility."
He knows he won't be able to avoid the topic forever. The trade deadline is March 15.
"All that stuff can go on after All-Star weekend," Howard said.
It will, and not only for Howard, whose agent was granted permission to speak to the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers and New Jersey Nets.
Nets point guard Deron Williams has escaped scrutiny even though he is in a similar situation. Williams can opt out of his contract after the season but employed a strategy at the start of the season that reduced the attention on his situation.
"I just made it a point to say what I was going to do before the season so there was no speculation," Williams said. "Play out the season, see how it goes, then decide from there. ... Probably opt out."
Boston Celtics guard Rajon Rondo's name is often mentioned in trade discussions. Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe has suggested a trade with the Los Angeles Lakers for center Andrew Bynum and/or forward Pau Gasol?
Asked where he would be after the trade deadline, Bynum, doing an interview in an Orlando hotel, said, "I think I'm going to be here."
Here meaning Orlando in a deal involving Howard? Or Los Angeles?
"L.A.," he said.
Once the trade deadline passes, it's a mad dash to the finish line of this hectic 66-game schedule.
The Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls are tops in the East. Bulls point guard Derrick Rose knows how tough it will be to eliminate the Heat, one of the hottest teams going with eight wins in a row and 19 in their last 22.
"To beat them is definitely a tough task, especially to beat them through a whole series," Rose said.