LAS VEGAS — The flirtation was fierce and enduring, covering many months and nearly the full range of human emotions: Dwight Howard wanted Brooklyn, and Brooklyn wanted Dwight Howard, badly.
The mutual attraction was undeniable, but the logistics proved burdensome, and Wednesday the Nets ended the long-distance affair, suspending their pursuit of Howard, the Orlando Magic's disaffected superstar.
The Nets instead re-signed center Brook Lopez to a four-year, $60.8 million deal — a move that eliminates any chance of acquiring Howard until 2013, assuming he is still available. Lopez was to be the centerpiece of any deal for Howard, but after signing his new contract he cannot be traded until Jan. 15. Lopez will make $13.7 million next season, and his contract includes a player option for $16.74 million in 2015-16.
Nets officials worked furiously over 10 days to land Howard, even pulling in a third and fourth team in an attempt to craft a blockbuster trade. But they never could provide Orlando with a satisfactory package of players, draft picks and payroll relief.
"I think the parameters of what we talked about are a little bit in a stationary position," Rob Hennigan, the Magic's general manager, told reporters at a hastily called news conference in Orlando, Fla. Given those parameters, he said, "I'm not sure that there's anything to really continue to discuss."
The Nets declined to comment on the suspended talks.
The sobering news about Howard came on an otherwise-cheery day for the franchise, which completed an anticipated trade for shooting guard Joe Johnson, a six-time All-Star, just hours after re-signing Deron Williams, their All-Star point guard. The Nets also announced the re-signing of Lopez and forward Gerald Wallace, as well as the signing of Mirza Teletovic, a high-scoring forward from Europe. They were working to re-sign Kris Humphries, their starting power forward.
The Nets also acquired Reggie Evans from the Los Angeles Clippers by using a so-called trade exception. In exchange, the Clippers will have the right to swap second-round picks with the Nets in 2016.
Johnson and Williams could quickly become one of the league's most dynamic backcourts. The Nets had visions of creating a star-studded juggernaut in Brooklyn with the addition of Howard.
Orlando is still expected to trade Howard in the coming months. But the Nets will continue to have fierce competition in the chase, with the Los Angeles Lakers, the Houston Rockets and perhaps others making their pitches.
Howard, 26, has been pushing for a trade for nearly a year and has listed Brooklyn as his preferred destination. He has threatened not to re-sign with any other team when he becomes a free agent next summer.
Howard could have joined the Nets as a free agent this week. Indeed, the Nets had planned for enough salary cap room to sign both Howard and Williams, who are close friends and have talked about playing together. But during a turbulent period in February, Howard instead chose to opt into his 2012-3 contract, taking him off the market.
The Nets, needing a second star to convince Williams to stay, made the deal last week to acquire Johnson, a move that — combined with other recent signings — eliminates any chance to create cap room next summer.
Any trade the Nets made for Howard this week would have required using both Lopez and Humphries in a sign-and-trade deal. But the NBA calendar was working against them. Once the league lifted its signings moratorium, at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, the urgency to sign Lopez and Humphries increased. Lopez, a restricted free agent, had maximum-salary offer sheets from at least two teams — believed to be Portland and Charlotte — and he would have become untradeable the moment he signed one.
Now, the Nets' best hope is that the Magic remain patient and hang on to Howard into next season. Howard is recovering from back surgery and might not be ready for opening night.
Asked at Wednesday's news conference if the Magic might simply keep Howard, Hennigan said, "We haven't ruled out anything."
Although Magic officials have been unmoved by previous Nets offers, the chance to create a more enticing multiteam deal will increase once the season starts. Most players who signed contracts this summer will become trade-eligible on Dec. 15.
No team has been more active this offseason than the Nets, who signed, re-signed, acquired or traded 12 players on Wednesday. Even without Howard, they have completed a makeover that should put them squarely in the middle of the playoff pack in the Eastern Conference.
Williams and Johnson are proven scorers and playmakers, while Lopez is one of the top-scoring centers in the league. Wallace is a rugged defender. Evans (rebounding) and Teletovic (scoring) could form the basis of a solid second unit.
The Nets remain in need of a backup point guard, although Johnson can also play the position. They are about to lose shooting guard Gerald Green, who is being offered a three-year, $10 million deal by the Indiana Pacers, according to The Indianapolis Star.
Johnson, 31, spent the last seven seasons with the Atlanta Hawks. To acquire him, the Nets gave up several minor players — Anthony Morrow, Jordan Farmar, DeShawn Stevenson, Johan Petro and Jordan Williams — plus Houston's first-round pick in 2013 and the Nets' second-round pick in 2017.