Dwight Howard has said he'll opt out of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Otis Smith, Orlando's general manager, has said he won't trade Howard and believes the NBA's best center can be persuaded to re-up with the Magic. Other NBA clubs won't sit around and wait. They'll make offers for Howard.

Should the Hawks make an offer?

They could make a tantalizing one: Al Horford and Kirk Hinrich for Howard and power forward Ryan Anderson. That's an All-NBA center (third team) with a Florida background who's under contract through 2016 for a reasonable $12 million per season and a useful guard whose contract expires in 2012. The Magic could make something of that.

Or this: Josh Smith and Marvin Williams for the same two Magic men. That's two starters - we'll say for the sake of argument that Williams still qualifies - who are 25 years old and who are under contract through at least 2013. That's not bad, either.

If you're Otis Smith and you're facing the possibility of losing your franchise player for nothing - the Magic lost Shaquille O'Neal to the Lakers the same way, the announcement coming in the Reebok tent downtown Atlanta the day before the 1996 Olympics opened - you'd have to listen. Even if you'd rather not trade Howard to a team in your division, wouldn't you have to listen?

For the Hawks, the trickiest part wouldn't be the trade but the follow-through. Even if he changed teams, Howard's contract wouldn't change: He'd still be eligible to exit next summer. That possibility would be even more chilling for the Hawks than for the Magic. Orlando would lose only Howard; the Hawks would lose Howard plus Horford/Smith and Hinrich/Williams.