Dwight Howard has decided to leave the Los Angeles Lakers and will be joining the Houston Rockets. Throughout the process the Rockets were considered favorites to land Howard, and by the end of a wild Friday filled with reports, counter-reports and misinformation the decision was official.
It was an official release from Lakers general manager Kupchak that finally ended the frenzy of reports and leaks.
Since then quotes from Howard and the parties involved have streamed in. The Lakers believe Howard's mind was made up before they met with the superstar big man. He was "emotionless" and wouldn't look them in the eye, according to a report from ESPN.
A Lakers source told ESPN they felt like they were "wasting their time" when they met with Howard as the final team to make their pitch on Tuesday. The front office, and Kobe Bryant, had stressed the importance of getting the "final word" with Howard before he made his decision. Kupchak even went out of his way to get the "first" word as he met with Howard on Saturday prior to his contract expiring and also shook his hand and wished him well prior to his meeting with the Rockets.
Would Phil Jackson being his coach have changed his mind? Howard stated that he requested Jackson to be the Lakers coach "early in the season", but doesn't specify if bringing the Zen Master to Los Angeles would have changed his decision. Howard felt uncomfortable playing under Mike D'Antoni and now shifts to a new coaching regime.
One of the key reasons he felt Houston is offering him a greater opportunity to grow as a player came down to head coach Kevin McHale and having Hakeem Olajuwon within arm's reach.
"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," Howard told Alex Kennedy of HOOPWORLD in an exclusive interview.
Of course, according to MySynergySports, Howard ranked 121st overall (.74 points per possession) in the league as a post-up player and 9th overall (1.29 points per possession) as a roll man out of the pick-and-roll last season. The prior season he averaged .88 points per possession out of the post and an astonishing 1.36 points per possession as a roll man -- good for second in the league overall.
He'll look to improve that under the tutelage of McHale and Olajuwon.
Reports had leaked that Kobe Bryant challenged Howard to "learn" how to become a winner and that he could "teach" him how. Howard refutes the leaked quotes from Bryant and said his words were "twisted".
Regardless, he went on to discuss how he considers himself a winner already.
"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," Howard told Kennedy.
Through the interview with HOOPSWORLD, Howard also discusses the extra $30 million the Lakers could offer him as a large factor as he finalized his decision, which came down to the Rockets and Lakers. The vulnerability he felt after dealing with his back injury along with the torn labrum in his shoulder made him consider staying with the Lakers for the extra year and added financial stability.
The money wasn't enough for Howard to take the bigger contract and stick with Los Angeles.
"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," Howard told Kennedy.
The decision is made and the gears have immediately shifted in Los Angeles. The Lakers are not expected to amnesty Pau Gasol and will be sliding him up to center, where they believe he will be a more "natural fit" in Mike D'Antoni's offense.
Bryant hasn't said anything about Howard's decision but took to Instagram to post a photo of himself with Gasol once everything was finalized with the caption of "#vamos #juntos #lakercorazon #vino."
The rental period of Howard in a Lakers uniform is over. He is moving on to try to "write his own story" in Houston, and the Lakers move on as the "storied franchise" and "six million fans" he left behind.