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How Dwight Howard Settled On Houston
Posted By Alex Kennedy On July 6, 2013 @ 6:28 am In NBA | No Comments
Dwight Howard’s decision was not an easy one. Free agents don’t walk away from the Los Angeles Lakers. Professional athletes do not leave tens of millions of dollars on the table. The Houston Rockets ultimately won this sweepstakes, but Howard struggled with the choice through Friday evening.
After meeting with all his potential suitors, Howard escaped to Aspen for several days. While making arguably the toughest decision of his life, he was occasionally stopped by fans who would ask him where he was headed. Howard would sign autographs and take pictures, but could only respond, “I don’t know.” This wasn’t Howard trying to conceal the information or wait until the time was right to make his announcement. This was a 27-year-old legitimately grappling with a difficult process and the unfortunate reality that he was going to let millions of people down regardless of what he decided.
One by one, Howard removed teams from consideration. Rather than keeping those teams in the dark, Howard contacted each of them and let them know they had been ruled out. He wanted to avoid the type of backlash that LeBron James had received for failing to contact teams prior to The Decision.
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.
That left two teams – Houston and Los Angeles – and one decision that Howard was dreading. Most people in Howard’s camp knew that it would come down to these two teams, but they were unsure which he would pick. The Rockets had long been the frontrunner to acquire Howard since James Harden and Chandler Parsons had started recruiting him in early May. However, the Lakers were still very much in consideration – a storied franchise that could offer a fifth contract year and $30 million more.
Howard understood that the financial gap wasn’t quite that significant due to differences in taxes and cost of living, along with the fact that he’ll likely sign another lucrative contract, but it was still difficult for him to walk away from so much money. An athlete never knows when they’ll sign their last contract, and Howard had felt extremely vulnerable for the first time in his career last season – more human than Superman – as he battled back and shoulder injuries that drastically limited him on the court.
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.
Howard, along with his agents and managers, hopped on a private plane to L.A. so that he could inform the Lakers of his decision, but even during that flight he was considering both situations. While most of the basketball world had moved on and already put Howard on Houston’s roster, the man whose word mattered most wasn’t ready to commit just yet. It wasn’t until 9:30 p.m. ET that Howard made his final decision and informed the Lakers and Rockets. Up until that point, he hadn’t told Los Angeles or Houston one way or the other, which is why neither side had expressed disappointment or excitement at the reports. They were waiting to hear from Howard, and the big man hadn’t made up his mind.
When Howard called Rockets general manager Daryl Morey to give him the news, Morey couldn’t hide his excitement and let out a scream. At this time last year, Houston’s best player was Kevin Martin and Morey was on the hot seat. The team seemed poised for a long rebuilding process since the Rockets had collected assets to make a splashy move, but couldn’t pull the trigger on a deal. They had swung and missed on free agents like Chris Bosh and Nene in recent years. They had tried to trade for Carmelo Anthony and even Howard. However, stars weren’t interested in Houston.
Then, Morey landed James Harden last October, signed him to a max contract and the rest is history. The Rockets won 45 games and gave the Oklahoma City Thunder a very tough series in the first round of the playoffs. Now, with Howard, Houston has positioned themselves to be an elite contender in the Western Conference for years to come.
“I felt like Houston was the best fit for me,” Howard told HOOPSWORLD in an exclusive interview. “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.
“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. … Nothing is ever promised, but I feel like this is going to be a great opportunity for us to win. Playing with a guy like James and the rest of the team they have, we have a great opportunity. You only have a small window to win in the NBA. I think this gives me a good window, a good opportunity, to win. I’m going to do what I can to help this team win. I think, right now, I’m the oldest guy on the team so I’ll be the youngest veteran in the NBA. But it’s a great opportunity. Looking at this team and the team we had in Orlando, it’s a very similar team, but we’re adding a guy like James Harden to that team. It’s a great opportunity.”
After Howard made his decision, he was relieved that the process was over. While fans were sick of hearing reports related to Howard’s future, nobody was more fed up with it than Howard himself.
“I’m sick and tired of all the sources,” Howard said. “I’m sick of people coming up with stories. I mean, it’s just a blessing for me. I had the opportunity to go through all of this – go through this process – but it’s been tough. Seeing all of the stuff on the internet. Seeing stuff that the reporters are saying when it’s nowhere near true and not who I am as a person. I was perceived as someone who I’m not. It hurt a lot. It really hurt a lot. But the only thing now is to move forward. I have an opportunity to get past all of that and I’m looking forward to it. This summer has been great. I’ve gotten away from everything this summer. I didn’t pay attention to anything that was being put out there on T.V. I had to hear about it, but I didn’t focus on any of that stuff. I focused on getting better. I’m just looking forward to the next half of my career.
“Now, I’ll get a chance to just put down the hammer somewhere and just play. There’s no more uncertainty. People don’t have to worry about anything for the next four years or say anything for the next four years. I’m just going to play and be who I am. I’ll get back everything that I lost. I’m looking forward to it.”
While Howard didn’t hide his happiness about getting a fresh start in Houston, he did express disappointment for how his stint with the Lakers went and spoke of how hard it was to leave.
“Very tough,” Howard said. “Very, very, very tough. Very, very tough. 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.”
Many fans placed the blame of Howard’s departure on Kobe Bryant’s shoulders after reports surfaced that he challenged Howard during the Lakers’ meeting. Rather than delivering an affectionate message like Mitch Kupchak, Steve Nash, Jeanie Buss and many others associated with the Lakers, Bryant reportedly told Howard that he had to “learn how it’s done first, and I can teach you here.” However, Howard defended Bryant and gave a different version of the events.
“He didn’t say anything of that sort,” Howard said of Bryant. “People twisted a lot of stuff that he said. But in my personal opinion, I’m a winner. I’m a winner because I’ve been playing for nine years when the average career for an NBA player is three years. I’m a winner because I made it to the NBA from a small school in Atlanta, GA, with 16 people in a class. I’m a winner because I’m succeeding in life. I’ve had problems and I’m not better than the next man, but I’m going to push myself to be a winner when it comes to winning a championship. But he didn’t say anything like that and a lot of people twisted what he did say.”
Fans in Los Angeles wondered if Howard would have stayed had Phil Jackson been hired as the team’s head coach early in the 2012-13 season rather than Mike D’Antoni. Howard confirmed that he never truly fit in D’Antoni’s system and hinted that Jackson in L.A. may have changed things.
“Well, I asked to have him as my coach earlier in the year,” Howard said, followed by a long pause before changing the topic. “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.”
Now, Howard will sign his contract with the Rockets on July 10, once the league’s moratorium ends. The anonymous sources will go away, the media will move on to other free agents and basketball will once again be his primary focus. He’ll be healthy and free of distractions while having a prominent role in a system that fits his game alongside one of the best scorers in the league.
Dwight Howard’s decision was not an easy one, but it’s one he had to make.
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