Sources told ESPN.com on Wednesday that the Rockets, despite recent speculation to the contrary, are not looking to trade Howard before the Feb. 18 deadline even though he has the right to become a free agent July 1 and could thus leave the team this summer without receiving anything in return.
The Rockets' grand plan, sources said this week, remains making an all-out pursuit in free agency this summer for Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant. Rockets officials have long believed privately that they will have as good a chance as any team to lure Durant away from the Thunder in the offseason because of his strong relationship with former teammate James Harden and the room Houston has to pay Durant max-contract money while also re-signing Howard.
Sources said Howard, for his part, does not want to be traded and hopes he can indeed finish the season in Houston before entering into his own negotiations with the Rockets.
Although the Rockets' aggressive nature on the trade market will undoubtedly lead some rival teams to believe that their stance could still change during the final two weeks before the trade deadline, one source insisted Wednesday that the Rockets haven't held any meaningful trade talks involving Howard since December.
Reports surfaced earlier Wednesday in both the New York Daily News and from Comcast Sports New England about the Boston Celtics having interest in trading for Howard.
"I didn't say it, what can I do," Howard said after Wednesday's practice when asked about the reports. "There is nothing I can say. Teams are going to say what they have to say. I don't know."
Howard, 30, is averaging 14.4 points and 11.8 rebounds this season, but he has been limited to 40 games by injuries (ankle and a sore back) and two suspensions. Over the past 20 games, however, his offensive production has increased to 16.2 points per game.
Howard is earning $22.4 million this season but is expected to bypass the $23.3 million he's scheduled to earn in 2016-17 to become a free agent July 1 along with Durant.
"Nobody talks about that stuff," Howard said. "My mind is on trying to get better every day, and I felt like I was on a good stretch and got hurt. Just trying to get back, that's my mindset. We don't sit around and talk about, 'Hey what's going to happen next year?' Because that means you're really not in, and you don't want to have those thoughts."