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Howard plot thickens near deadline


Regardless of speculation and fabrication about additional destinations under consideration, Dwight Howard’s trade request remains unwavering. He is amenable to commit long-term with the Nets, Lakers, and Mavericks. That’s it, just those three teams.

Nevertheless, lean and rest assured copious other suitors have contacted Magic GM Otis Smith and registered bids. Without a doubt, the Knicks are one. No. 1, in all likelihood, for several solid reasons:

Due to the grab bag of riches evidently about to be auctioned off; on account of the imposing threat of stiff competition in the stands and the standings should Howard bunk in Brooklyn (how long before shameless front runner Spike Lee switches jerseys?); and because the Knicks arguably own more featured frontline creatures than anyone else in the field to exchange for (who does he think he is?) Mr. Big Stuff.

“I’m positive the Knicks have called just in case Dwight changes up,” an Eastern Conference GM asserted. “I’m sure they’ve offered a combination of everybody, excluding Jeremy Lin, of course. Otis deserves a lot of credit for not putting it out on the street which teams have offered what.”

Think interim owner James Dolan might be willing to do whatever it takes to satisfy management and slink away with Howard?

To be precise, make the Magic as whole as possible and keep multitudes of fans coming to Amway Arena.

Would the Magic accept Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler . . . Amare Stoudemire and Chandler . . . in addition to Iman Shumpert and the TV rights to Walt Frazier?

Assuming Hedo Turkoglu’s $23.8 million remaining two-year obligation (FYI: Howard loves him, feeling his clutch shooting and entry passes often have helped him and the team) and Chris Duhon’s $7.2 million, two-year guarantee would also be no problem.

March 1 is the artificial cut-off date set by Smith. If Howard doesn’t back off his demand within the next day, the Magic have until the league’s March 15 trade deadline to make a command decision.

More than a few people in the know are convinced Howard will stay holed up in Orlando for the duration of the season.

“I can tell you for a fact the Lakers offered Andrew Bynum and the Magic do not want him,” said a Western Conference executive.”

That leaves the Mavericks, who don’t have the wherewithal to compensate the Magic or get them players they want, and the Nets, who are closest to having the resources to do both but not quite.

Why not play it out and see what happens in the playoffs?

Should the Magic get bounced again early, management theoretically can harvest what’s available now in a sign-and-trade. That way, like LeBron James and Chris Bosh, Howard gets max money for five years.

An acutely wired-in source says he has heard there may be a more ominous purpose to keep the status quo. It’s no secret Howard (and others) is dying to distance himself from the sound of Stan Van Gundy’s tedious screeching. Might management be willing to sacrifice a measly coach to accommodate their centrifugal force?

It certainly wouldn’t be a franchise first. Owner Richard DeVos approved Brian Hill’s firing when Penny Hardaway led an uprising, ignited the previous season by Shaquille O’Neal, whose mantra to management was, “We can’t get to the next level with this guy” and advocated the hiring of Chuck Daly.

Superstars slaying coaches is as old as Sparta. ESPN’s Michael Wilbon might want to raise that theme in an upcoming round table discussion, considering such an authority as Magic Johnson is on the panel.

If Madge could get Paul Westhead dumped, and he had overseen a Lakers’ championship one season, a lost mini-series, and 11 (7-4) games prior, and later had outsized input into Pat Riley’s eviction following four titles, surely Howard has some sway/leverage regarding the retention of a coach (and GM, for that matter) who so far has supervised a single NBA Finals appearance.

Then again, there’s a fragile factor at work here. Madge was mentally strong enough to withstand the relative pounding he took for his leading role in the two L.A. rebellions. It’s decidedly dubious whether the hypersensitive Howard could take the withering global grief he would get if Van Gundy’s deportation could be pinned on him.

That’s why the Nets continue on the prowl for an acceptable centerpiece to send to the Magic. Brook Lopez doesn’t meet Smith’s specifications — established, young and locked up for multi years — although he understands the shortage and available of bigs and apparently would settle for the rising restricted free agent if Jersey GM Billy King can’t do better.

That leads us to Andrew Bogut, who fractured his left ankle and is out for another 8-12 weeks. Hurt or healthy, there are always teams interested in the 2005 pick of the litter, who’s under contract ($13 million/$14 million) for the next two seasons. Obviously, the Bucks have yet to hear anything especially enticing, but they’re “definitely open to offers,” disclosed an East Coast coach.

So, J.R. Smith has been fined a cool million dollars by his former Chinese team. In the interest of peace in our time, I say just tack it onto the national debt and be done with it.

Reports have David Stern unloading the Hornets for some $340 million. Agreement requires the new conglomerate “to keep the Hornets in New Orleans for the foreseeable future” . . . like those FEMA trailers. Interestingly, the group includes Mike Dunleavy, who dutifully listed Donald Sterling as a reference.

Peter Vecsey covers the NBA for the New York Post.