On Friday, the Rockets finally hooked the biggest fish in the NBA’s free-agent pond. The challenge remained pulling him in, but after several agonizing hours, Dwight Howard was headed to Houston. Howard had a decision to make and time was running out. He had all of the information from all those meetings in Los Angeles, but he just needed something, one last piece of evidence, to be at peace with his choice
“It was on the Fourth of July,” Howard said. “That’s when I felt it was Houston. I was in Colorado. It seemed like every person that I met was from Houston. It was just so ironic. I’d walk around. Someone would ask for a picture. They’d give me a business card and it would say Houston on it. I was like, ‘Is everybody in Colorado from Houston right now?’ It was unbelievable. I was like, ‘You know what, this has to be from God.’ You pray for things to happen. You pray for signs, for God to show you things. It just seemed like, this was it.”
Howard chose the Rockets after five days of meetings and deliberations. He did not meet with the Lakers again Friday, but did inform them of his decision even before his call to Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.
The Rockets went into the month as the apparent front-runner in the Howard sweepstakes, then solidified their position with the recruiting pitches from Chandler Parsons and James Harden and the championship-era tandem of Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. Along with the Skype presentation from Yao Ming, the Rockets emphasized that Howard would be welcomed to the Rockets’ line of dominant big men from Elvin Hayes to Moses Malone, Ralph Sampson, Olajuwon and Yao, in contrast to the burdens of expectation in Los Angeles.
Shaquille O’Neal says the Los Angeles spotlight was too bright for Dwight Howard. Speaking at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, Shaq hammered his former colleague as if they were battling in the post.
“It was expected,” Shaq said. “We’ve all been in LA, and not a whole lot of people can handle being under the bright lights. Everybody wants to do it, but when you get there, there are certain pressures. I think it was a safe move for him to go to a little town like Houston. That’s right, little town. I said it.”
Howard, 27, had often listed his free-agency priorities as to be a part of a championship-caliber team and to be happy. Howard, 6-11, had seemed convinced, according to a person with knowledge of the process, by the combination of a partnership with Harden, Parsons’ strong case about the chemistry and camaraderie on the team in contrast to his one unhappy season with the Lakers, and the chance to work with Rockets coach Kevin McHale, a Hall of Fame low-post player. Howard is also scheduled to work with Olajuwon this summer, his third training at Olajuwon’s annual offseason big-man camp.
“It meant a lot, just having Hakeem show up from Jordan,” Howard said. “He’s a great guy. We’ve had opportunities in the past to get together. He’s been one of my biggest supporters. I really thank Hakeem. I trust his judgment. I trust a lot of things he says. He’s been good from the first day he talked to my mom and said he wanted to work with me. I’m looking forward to having him and Kevin McHale push me. When I sat down with Kevin, he reminded me a lot of the drive of Clifford Ray (a former Magic assistant coach) when Clifford Ray was my big man coach. He pushed me to the limit every day and then I worked out.”
His other suitors had been eliminated through the day. The Hawks and Mavericks had been told they were not under consideration. The Warriors had made moves needed to open cap room then used to land Andre Iguodala, taking them out of the mix unless in a sign-and-trade with the Lakers. The Warriors were subsequently told that they were out of the running. That left the Rockets and Lakers. While Howard had decided to sign with the Rockets, according to an individual familiar with his thinking, Morey was not willing to believe he had landed him until he heard it from Howard. When he did, he gave a shout, and sent a Tweet.
“Welcome to Houston @DwightHoward!!! Years of work by Dwight & Rockets went into this. This team is going to be special.”