Amid a day of chaos, backtracking reports and one fateful meeting with Los Angeles Lakers team brass, Dwight Howard has officially decided to become a Houston Rocket.
Howard made the news official via a statement on his Twitter feed:
I've decided to become a member of the Houston Rockets. I feel its the best place for me and I am excited about joining the Rockets and I'm looking forward to a great season. I want to thank the fans in Los Angeles and wish them the best.
UPDATE: Saturday, July 13, at 12:59 p.m. ET by Eric Ball
The signing is now official according to the Rockets official Twitter feed:
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UPDATE: Saturday, July 6, at 1:32 p.m. ET by Kyle Vassalo
Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski provides details on Howard's contract:
Dwight Howard's four-year, $88 million maximum contract agreement with the Houston Rockets will include an early termination option after the 2015-16 season and a 15 percent trade kicker, league sources told Yahoo! Sports.
The report goes on to explain how the end of Howard's deal has been structured, and when D12 could potentially hit the market again:
The early termination clause – or opt-out – could make Howard a free agent again in '16, allowing him to re-sign a five-year, maximum contract deal with the Rockets or change teams again. In the event Howard is traded during the duration of this contract, he will be paid 15 percent of the remaining money left on his deal through the kicker.
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UPDATE: Saturday, July 6, at 1:03 a.m. ET by Ian Hanford
Hoopsworld's Alex Kennedy provided Howard's perspective in an interview with the center after his decision. Here's what the center had to say about why he chose the Rockets:
“I felt like Houston was the best fit for me. I felt that James and I would really have an opportunity to grow together. I felt like having a coach like Kevin McHale and having Hakeem Olajuwon, who’s in Houston, can really help me grow as a player – help me as a post player and help my overall game. It was very appealing. I felt like this was a great opportunity for me to start fresh. I’m just looking forward to this opportunity.”
Howard is also excited to join James Harden:
“Ah man, I’m very excited. I’m very excited. I’m looking forward to it. I’ve been in contact with James and we’ve just been talking about developing a good relationship so we can lead that team as far as we can. We’ve been talking about winning championships.”
Howard also addressed the idea of Phil Jackson's presence in LA impacting his decision to stay or go:
“Well, I asked to have him as my coach earlier in the year. (pause) The best decision for me was to do what’s best for Dwight. I think this is the best thing for me. This wasn’t a decision about anybody else. I didn’t have anybody pushing me to do anything. This is what Dwight wanted.”
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Late Friday afternoon, USA Today's Sam Amick was the first to report that Howard had decided to sign with the Rockets. The report cited people close to the situation, sparking rampant reaction to Howard's paradigm-shifting decision.
However, as it has many times through this 20-month process, the story began changing almost from the moment Amick reported it. Howard's camp quickly denied that any deal been struck with the Rockets, as agent Dan Fegan told Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski that the situation would not be resolved until Friday night or Saturday:
Wojnarowski later reported that sources close to the situation said Howard and the Rockets were merely ironing out contract details, and that the expectation remained he would land in Houston. Howard had already told the Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks that they were out of the running earlier Friday.
But as reports continued trickling in, it became clear that this was still very much a two-horse race between the Lakers and Rockets. Los Angeles had the ability to offer Howard a five-year contract, which would pay him $118 million—$30 million more than the collective bargaining agreement allots Houston over its four-year pact.
ESPN's Dave McMenamin reported that the extra money was weighing heavily on Howard's mind coming into his meeting with Lakers brass:
We now know that meeting was to inform general manager Mitch Kupchak he'd be leaving Los Angeles. Kupchak released a statement on the team's official website after being informed of Howard's imminent departure for Houston:
We have been informed of Dwight's decision to not return to the Lakers. Naturally we're disappointed. However, we will now move forward in a different direction with the future of the franchise and, as always, will do our best to build the best team possible, one our great Lakers fans will be proud to support. To Dwight, we thank him for his time and consideration, and for his efforts with us last season. We wish him the best of luck on the remainder of his NBA career.
Losing Howard is undoubtedly a crushing blow for the Lakers—especially considering the stops they pulled out to keep the big man in town. They erected billboards across the city and hung a banner on Staples Center imploring the 27-year-old center to give the Lakers a chance to create a winning team around him.
However, the damage of Howard's first season in Los Angeles—which can be categorized as nothing short of a disaster—was evidently too much for the All-Star to bear. Expected to help bring another banner back to the Lakers, Howard instead suffered through arguably the most frustrating year of his entire career. The Lakers languished below .500 for much of the 2012-13 season, with head coach Mike Brown being replaced five games into the season by Mike D'Antoni—a guy whose system was not conducive to Howard's game.
Struggling with his recovery from back surgery and a lingering shoulder problem, Howard averaged 17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. While those would be great numbers for any center in the league, they represented a noticeable drop-off from Howard's time with the Orlando Magic and helped support the notion he looked less dominant on film.
Throughout their pitch to Howard, the Rockets made sure to make clear the team's system would revolve around him. Surrounded by a cast that includes James Harden and Chandler Parsons, Houston has accumulated assets that resemble Howard's best teams in Orlando. The big man thrived when shooters like Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis were luring defenders to the perimeter and opening up the middle, and the Rockets' core is at least similar on paper.
What's more, Houston has also made a strong push to land Howard confidant and Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith via a sign-and-trade agreement. Zach Klein of WSB-TV in Atlanta first reported that the Rockets were attempting to engage the Hawks in discussions.
While nothing is official in terms of those negotiations at this time, Houston is likely far from done making moves. ESPN's Brian Windhorst reported that incumbent center Omer Asik has no interest in playing with Howard or sitting behind him as a sixth man, so the Rockets could parlay the defensive stopper into another piece—even if it isn't of Smith's caliber.
The Rockets are on the rise. The Lakers are in the midst of a downward spiral. That was Houston's pitch to Howard in a nutshell. Now, we just have concrete evidence that's truly the case.
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