On Wednesday, the Nets finally decided to give up their pursuit of Howard in favor of keeping their own big man under contract. The Nets agreed to a new contract with center Brook Lopez on a four-year, $60 million deal, all but eliminating Howard from the team's immediate plans, according to ESPN.
Lopez, who was drafted 10th overall in 2008, has spent each of his first four seasons with the Nets but was sidelined for much of the 2011-12 season with a broken foot. The 24-year-old played in just five games during the lockout-shortened season after not missing a single game during each of his first three campaigns.
The decision to sign Lopez limits the Nets' opportunities to trade him in a deal for Howard, or any deal for that matter, due to regulations in the collective bargaining agreement. The rule essentially states that any free agent contract signed will eliminate that player from being traded to another team for a six-month period.
Lopez has averaged 17.2 points and 7.5 rebounds over his career with the Nets. He has been widely viewed as a franchise center since entering the league out of Stanford in 2008, but after a stellar sophomore season in 2010 the big man has seen his rebounding numbers drop dramatically (8.7 rebound per in 2009-10 to just 3.6 in 2011-12).
Meanwhile, the pursuit of Howard has since been called off due to the news of Lopez' deal. Howard, who was all but certain to join the Nets as recently as Monday, remains in a provocative situation and could well be donning a Magic uniform at the start of next season if things don't change soon.
The Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets and Atlanta Hawks are still rumored to be in the discussion for Howard, but since the Nets have suspended talks it appears Orlando may hold off on any immediate activity.
Howard averaged 20.6 points and 14.5 rebounds in 54 games last season, before missing the final few weeks and the playoffs to undergo back surgery. He is expected to be back to 100 percent by the time NBA training camps open in the fall.