He's not Superman anymore; he's rocket man. Dwight Howard sat alongside Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale Saturday afternoon (July 13) in a neatly tailored grey suit with a scarlet tie, grinning at times, serious at others. It was a fitting, yet comical introduction for the former Los Angeles Laker's new beginning with the Rockets.
“Dwight is the biggest free agent acquisition in the history of the Rockets,” owner Leslie Alexander said in a statement. “His addition puts us in contention. This is good for the city and especially the fans. Fans are going to have a great time this year. This team will be tremendous fun to watch.”
"It means a lot to me just to have a fresh start and have an opportunity to write my own story," Howard said. "I don't think people understood the fact that I got traded to L.A., and now I had a chance to really choose my own destiny, and this is the place where I chose and I'm happy about it." The NBA center has been pursued by the Rockets, Lakers and Mavericks. Howard signed a four-year, $88 million contract with the Rockets, ending a bidding war between the three teams.
The Rockets went all out to introduce Howard, dubbing him “Rocketman” instead of “Superman” and playing a video montage. “The future of the NBA resides in H-Town,” the video’s narrator declares. “As older teams fade, the Rockets will rise. A new age has begun.” The video included highlights of Rockets past and present, hyping Alexander, GM Daryl Morey, coach Kevin McHale and a roster that includes Howard, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin.
The event marks the conclusion of a nearly two-year saga with Howard, from Orlando to Los Angeles and finally to Houston alongside James Harden. Earlier this month, Howard told reporters that the chance to compete for a championship was one of the deciding factors in signing with the Rockets rather than his other four finalists, the Lakers, Warriors, Mavericks and Hawks. However, he did say Saturday that he wasn’t going to guarantee any rings, a la LeBron James during his 2010 arrival in Miami.
“I am not gonna get up here and say we’re gonna win five championships,” Howard said, according to the Sporting News. “I am not gonna do that. But I think if we really dedicate ourselves and sacrifice everything we got for a championship, at the end of the season, we should be holding up the trophy.”
In the eight days since Dwight Howard announced his decision to sign with the Rockets, the team has had its best stretch of ticket sales since moving into Toyota Center.
CEO Tad Brown would not share specific numbers, but he said there has been a bump of 20 percent in the equivalent of full season-ticket packages.
After the press conference Saturday, Dwight stated he will be returning to Los Angeles to work out with some of the Rockets players. “I’m leaving for LA (Sunday),” Howard said. “A couple of those guys are flying with me. I’m looking forward to it. It’s a chance to learn each other, learn each other’s game, just have a feel for what we want to do as a team. The guys are excited, very excited.” In addition to the players in Houston, Chandler Parsons and Patrick Beverley, Howard said he had received congratulatory messages or calls from James Harden and Jeremy Lin. Both will be a part of the workouts in Los Angeles.
“Me and James organized it,” Parsons said. “It was actually initially going to be in Orlando. I was hoping to keep some of the young guys there after summer league since they were already here. Once Dwight came, J Lin is out there already. Omri (Casspi) is coming out there. Terrence Jones, Greg Smith, Isaiah (Canaan), so we have a good group of guys. L.A. was more convenient, so I guess I had to travel the longest distance.”
Dwight Howard might not have replaced Daryl Morey as Rockets general manager, despite Morey’s claim that Howard and James Harden had demoted him to their assistant, but Howard did have strong feelings about the Rockets keeping the Rockets’ previous starting center, Omer Asik. Asik had told the Rockets he wanted to be traded, rather than to return to the backup role he had with the Bulls. Morey has said he does not intend to trade Asik.
“Omer might not really see the total big picture right now and I totally understand,” Howard said. “He’s a young guy and he wants to really be respected. I would tell him when I see him, ‘You’ve done a great job on this team. I’m going to help you and this team get better.’ He’s a big piece to us winning a championship if we’re going to make that run. Him and Jeremy Lin will be very good playing with me. I’m going to do whatever I can to make those guys’ lives better. I realize how much they mean to this team.”
Hakeem Olajuwon, a key part of the Rockets’ recruiting efforts to land Howard and a large part of the festivities Saturday after Howard signed, will rejoin the Rockets in an official capacity for the first time since he spent the final season of his career with the Toronto Raptors in 2002. Olajuwon’s duties and title are being discussed, and he will spend much of the year at his home in Jordan. But he will work with Rockets interior players, as he does with big men around the NBA each offseason, as a team employee. “We are going to bring him in as full-time as is possible,” Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said Sunday. “It’s not done, but we have mutual interest to get it done, and we’ve had some early discussions.
Are the Rockets a legitimate contender to make the NBA finals? Perhaps, but more importantly, the "Dwight-mare" is over and Howard will begin to chase Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon's success.