The Brooklyn Nets' persistent efforts to recruit the Cleveland Cavaliers as a third team to help them hammer home a trade for Dwight Howard are starting to pay off, according to sources close to the process.
Sources told ESPN.com that the Nets and Magic are cautiously optimistic that the Cavaliers will help them facilitate a three-way trade that lands Howard in Brooklyn.
As part of their due diligence the Nets and Magic have exchanged medical information on Howard, who had back surgery, and Brook Lopez, who had foot surgery, sources told ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher. Lopez would likely be headed to Orlando in any deal.
Free agent Kris Humphries would be one of the key pieces headed to Cleveland in the proposed deal.
The Cavaliers, however, have enough cap space to sign Humphries outright, so they have requested additional assets from their two prospective trade partners.
A key in any potential deal, sources said, is swingman Marshon Brooks, whom the Nets are offering to prospective third-team facilitators to make a Howard-to-Brooklyn trade possible.
Although the Nets have made Brooks available, sources say the Magic aren't interested and he's being shopped elsewhere, including Cleveland, to find a package that suits Orlando.
The Nets' weekend attempts to convince the Cavaliers to take on Humphries is the latest of several proposals Brooklyn has made to the Magic and, in fact, is not completely new.
A couple of weeks ago, just before Orlando hired Rob Hennigan as its new general manager, Brooklyn offered a similar three-team trade proposal to the Cavs, sources said, only to be turned down by the Magic.
Hennigan now appears to be willing to consider the offer. And sources close to the process have expressed cautious optimism that the negotiations could proceed to a more serious stage.
"The deal is progressing, but nothing's imminent,'' said one source close to the talks.
But there is another potential hurdle that the Nets and Magic are fighting.
Multiple league executives told ESPN.com on Sunday that there is growing reluctance among some teams to participate in the sort of three-team deal that would get Howard to Brooklyn, amid some leaguewide dissatisfaction that the Los Angeles Lakers were able to swing a deal for Steve Nash last week.
"You can talk about the new (luxury) tax all you want, but if the Lakers get Nash and the Nets get Howard, then what did the new CBA accomplish?" one GM said. "You have to realize part of long-term planning is making sure you don't help create teams you can't beat."
Nonetheless, after a few days of silence, Brooklyn and Orlando began discussing possible trades again early Tuesday morning, sources said. The Nets proposed sending a package of Lopez and Humphries, both through sign-and-trade deals, plus Brooks and three future first-round draft picks.
But Orlando does not want Humphries or Brooks, so the Nets began looking for a third team to pull in to help push the deal through. The Magic continue to speak with other teams, including the Lakers and Houston Rockets, about possible deals, but nothing has piqued their interest, sources say.
One league source familiar with the negotiations believes that Sunday's widespread speculation about an imminent deal with the Nets might have been strategically leaked to entice other potential trade partners to make their best offer to the Magic.
Orlando likes Lakers center Andrew Bynum, but one source said Bynum has refused to assure the Magic that he will re-sign with them beyond next season. Bynum can become a free agent in the summer of 2013, so trading for him without his long-term commitment would put Orlando in the same bind it finds itself in with Howard.
Orlando likes Lopez as a consolation prize to Bynum, and a package featuring the Brooklyn center and a slew of draft picks intrigues the Magic, according to sources.