What would compel a basketball player to leave one of the most storied franchises in the history of sports while simultaneously leaving an extra year and nearly $30 million on the table (tax difference between states notwithstanding)?
Alex Kennedy of Hoopsworld.com gives an excellent rundown of the decision-making process as Howard whittled down the potential suitors during his few days away from California:
He placed a call to Dallas, so Mark Cuban emailed members of the media to share the disappointing news. He placed a call to Atlanta, so Danny Ferry quickly turned to other free agents and finalized deals with Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll. He placed a call to Golden State, so Bob Myers informed his staff, but still celebrated the team’s surprising acquisition of Andre Iguodala. Three teams down, two to go.
Of course, that left Los Angeles and Houston, both of which seemed like fine choices for Howard, although either choice would ultimately get him lambasted by a large group of people.
Ultimately, Howard ended up viewing the Rockets as the better opportunity to win a title.
There's no reason to think that Dwight was ill-informed on any angle of the decision. Between his agents, managers and all the people around him, every facet of his choice—from the money he would be leaving on the table to his ability to win championships—would have been discussed.
Once it was announced that Howard had made a decision, he remained unsure of what his choice would be. The official announcement was still hours away, according to Kennedy:
Howard thought long and hard about these two teams. He considered the pros and cons and discussed the options with advisers, friends, family members and a number of players around the league. The reason Howard waited nearly five hours after the first report to make his announcement is because he hadn’t yet decided. He was leaning toward Houston, sure, but he wasn’t ready to finalize his decision and announce it.
Obviously, we now know his decision. Howard got on a plane back to Los Angeles and told GM Mitch Kupchak that he was bound for Houston.
This all started months ago with the writing on the wall concerning which teams would be able to make a run at Howard and which would decide they would rather stay out of it altogether.
Recruiting really started before the season ended. Chandler Parsons and James Harden did everything they could to convince Howard that Houston was the place to be.
As the weeks went on, we picked apart the Lakers' problems, their dire salary situation, the lack of depth and the age of Los Angeles' best players relative to Howard.
Meanwhile, Houston's merits were discussed at length. Not only does it have one of the best general managers in the game, but it also has a coach with a list of post moves that could fill an instruction manual. An extremely young core (of which Howard is now the oldest member) and the ability to play a style more reminiscent of his days in Orlando (rather than the perplexing run-and-iso in L.A.) also had to be entice the big man.
All that and more went into Howard's final decision.
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.
On the flip side, when Howard was asked about the Lakers not hiring Phil Jackson, you could read his frustration in black and white, as he said, "Well, I asked to have him as my coach earlier in the year."
Nearly eight months later, the major problems in Los Angeles are no different.
During his meeting with the Rockets, Howard inquired about adding an additional maximum-salary player. It was a request that seemed ridiculous at the time, but ultimately might have paid off in securing him for the long-term.
It was a decision that he said his days in Orlando helped him come to, one he thinks will ultimately make him happy:
People wouldn’t understand. Walking away from them and walking away from $30 million. That shows you right there that I want to win. I want to win. Nothing else matters other than winning. I don’t think anybody would’ve ever walked away from $30 million, but I want to win. But yeah, just walking away was tough. I was walking away from six million fans. I was walking away from a storied franchise. All of that makes it tough and it makes it a really, really big risk. I learned a lot from the situation in Orlando though, when I was afraid to walk away because I didn’t want to hurt people. I was afraid to leave because everything seemed like it was great. But now, I’m doing what’s best for Dwight. People are going to be mad and upset either way, so I’d rather be happy. I want to be happy playing basketball rather than upset doing what everyone wants me to do.
At the very least, Howard seems to be owning his decision.
There's no excuse making, even if he is trying to shine the light on what he gave up, and it seems that his eyes are focused firmly on the future.