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The Magic have given Howard’s agent permission to discuss deals with the Nets, Lakers and Dallas Mavericks, and there was plenty of speculation he could be dealt even before the season began, just as Chris Paul was.

That would have created an awkward All-Star reunion.

Howard literally towers over this city, his face pictured on billboards overlooking the interstate and on a giant Adidas ad high atop the outside of the Amway Center. This region caters to visitors, but didn’t have to consider how it would have welcomed Howard.

“I’m here, so it doesn’t matter what would’ve or should’ve happened,” he said. “But you know I’m here and we want to have a great time. I’m looking forward to all the events and showing everybody my city.”

With its new arena in just its second season, Orlando is hosting the All-Star game for the first time since 1992, one of the NBA’s most memorable. Magic Johnson won MVP honors only a few months following his retirement after contracting the HIV virus.

Even Shaquille O’Neal, who has been critical of Howard in the past, says he hopes the MVP this time goes to Howard. O’Neal started his career with the Magic before bolting as a free agent, and he said recently it would be a “travesty” if Howard leaves.

If fans fear Howard following Shaq’s path, he said they never tell him.

“Whatever you decide to do, we’re behind you 100 percent,” they say, according to Howard.

“They’ve been great,” Howard added. “Despite what people may say or think, the fans here have always been great to me. I really appreciate it. They’ve showed me nothing but love from Day 1 and I’ve done the same thing. This city means a lot to me.”

Howard said he was looking forward to playing this weekend with James, Anthony and Dwyane Wade, who join league MVP Derrick Rose in the powerful Eastern Conference starting lineup.

The West is an L.A. story, with Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum of the Lakers joining the Clippers’ Paul and Blake Griffin. Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant rounds out the first five.

The All-Star weekend would have been in jeopardy had the lockout lasted much longer. An agreement was reached during Thanksgiving weekend and the season opened on Christmas, allowing for a 66-game schedule.

The play has been sloppy and injuries have piled up as players navigate a schedule that forced them to play on three straight nights for the first time since 1999, following the last work stoppage. All the All-Stars said they were eager to be here, even though many probably would benefit from the rest.

And Wade said ugly play won’t be a problem Sunday night.

“I think Sunday is going to be great,” he said. “I think players are obviously with all these games, the body is feeling a little certain way right now. We’re going to enjoying this break, but Sunday’s going to be just competitive. It’s going to be exciting for the fans to watch.”

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