A blockbuster trade involving Tracy McGrady and Steve Francis dominated the NBA rumor mill Monday while the Los Angeles Lakers waited to learn whether Shaquille O'Neal was serious about demanding a trade.
The Charlotte Bobcats also were major players on the eve of their expansion draft, making a deal with the Los Angeles Clippers to move up two spots in Thursday's NBA draft to select Emeka Okafor or Dwight Howard as the cornerstone of their franchise.
What promises to be a busy week began with loads of trade talk, much of it centered around two of the league's best known superstars.
The Rockets were said to be the leading candidate to acquire McGrady from Orlando, with officials from other teams saying Houston was offering a package including Francis, Cuttino Mobley, Kelvin Cato and/or Bostjan Nachbar for McGrady, Juwan Howard and Tyronn Lue. Because of league salary cap rules, such a deal could not be finalized until July.
''Tracy has indicated he would like to play elsewhere, and we're trying to see what we can do,'' Magic executive Pat Williams said. ''The issue is where he would sign (a contract extension). Teams want to know what Tracy's plans are.''
A trade to Houston would put McGrady on the same team with center Yao Ming, giving the Rockets an inside-outside nucleus few Western Conference teams could match.
In the trade that was finalized Monday, the expansion Bobcats acquired the No. 2 overall pick from the Los Angeles Clippers for the Nos. 4 and 33 picks. Charlotte also agreed to select Clippers center Predrag Drobnjak in Tuesday's expansion draft.
''We would be pleased starting our basketball team with either one of those young men,'' Bobcats coach and general manager Bernie Bickerstaff said of Okafor and Howard, the consensus top two picks in Thursday night's draft. ''They represent what we would like to become in terms of character, competitiveness and talent.''
Charlotte, which will select at least 14 players in the expansion draft Tuesday, also was close to finalizing a deal with Phoenix to acquire center Jahidi White, cash and a future first-round draft pick.
That trade would clear salary cap space for the Suns, allowing them to make a run at free agents Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and others.
The Lakers, meanwhile, were exploring their options regarding O'Neal, who issued a trade demand last week after Los Angeles announced that Phil Jackson would not return as head coach.
''Me and the Big Fella are trying to get to Dallas together now,'' McGrady told Florida Today.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he hadn't spoken to the Lakers yet.
''Will we? Most likely,'' he said. ''But, you know, we also have to ascertain what's real and what's not real.
If the Lakers are serious about trading O'Neal, the Mavericks could be an ideal trading partner.
Dallas has one of the league's most talent-laden rosters, including several players whose combined salaries would be within the league-mandated 15 percent of O'Neal's $27 million salary for next season.
The hangup would be deciding the players involved. The Lakers would start by asking for Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavericks would be more willing to package Antoine Walker, Antawn Jamison or Michael Finley.
''I'd be hard-pressed to see us trading Dirk,'' Cuban said. ''Dirk is as close to an untouchable as we'd get.''
With former Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich interviewing for the Lakers' coaching job, Los Angeles general manager Mitch Kupchak was coy regarding O'Neal.
''I do expect to meet with or speak to Shaquille's representatives in timely fashion. We've had three or four days now for everybody to wind down now, calm down a little bit. I'll get a better feel of where we stand at that time,'' Kupchak said. ''I'm eager to hear what they have to say, and we'll take it from there.''
The rumored deal sending McGrady to Houston could be contingent on whether the Bobcats select any of Orlando's unprotected players in Tuesday's expansion draft.
''It's a very tenuous situation right now,'' Williams said.
Said Bickerstaff: ''We have been in conversations with the Magic, and we're good listeners and good facilitators. We have to make a decision not to do anything that's vindictive, but to do something we can derive some benefit from.''
Francis' agent, Jeff Fried, told the Houston Chronicle the trade was not complete but was close.
''Steve's preference is to not go to Orlando,'' Fried said. ''Steve's tasted the playoffs. (The Rockets) got a series under their belts. He was looking forward to going further with the same Rockets team but with another year of experience together. This is certainly not his preference. He loves Houston.''
New Jersey reportedly agreed to send the No. 22 pick in Thursday's draft to Portland in exchange for Eddie Gill and cash. Nets vice president Rod Thorn would not be specific about his trade discussions but acknowledged he does not view any player who will be available at No. 22 as being worthy of the three-year contract that first-round draft picks receive.
AP sportswriters Jaime Aron in Dallas, John Nadel in Los Angeles and Tom Canavan in East Rutherford, N.J., contributed to this article.
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.