Center Of Attention: Howard Spurns Lakers, Agrees To Four-Year Deal With Rockets
The Rockets "finally hooked the biggest fish in the NBA’s free-agent pond" when free agent C Dwight Howard chose to join the team, according to Jonathan Feigen of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. Howard picked the Rockets after "five days of meetings and deliberations -- and a few hours of uncertainty -- before the Lakers ended the drama with the announcement" that he would not be returning. He "did not meet with the Lakers again Friday, but did inform them of his decision even before his call" to Rockets GM Daryl Morey. The Rockets in landing Howard "pulled a coup two years in the making, beginning with a dramatic restructuring of the roster to enable them to have the cap room needed and culminating in the week’s strong recruiting presentation in Los Angeles." The Rockets "went into the month as the apparent front-runner in the Howard sweepstakes, then solidified their position with the recruiting pitches" from F Chandler Parsons and G James Harden, as well as Basketball HOFers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, who were a part of the Rockets' '95 championship team (CHRON.com, 7/5). In Houston, Randy Harvey noted Howard agreed to a four-year, $88M deal. Howard "added 20,000 Twitter followers Friday just by announcing he would make his announcement with a tweet" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 7/6).
HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PLAYER: Howard said of his move, "I’m looking forward to meshing with the city, getting out there. I know I’ve gotten a bad rep for a lot of things. I would say 95 percent of that stuff is false. I want to show people who Dwight Howard really is. I genuinely love being around people and giving people joy. I look forward to giving people a lot of joy, a lot of smiles and a lot of wins" (CHRON.com, 7/6). Howard said of his move, "I wouldn't say it was anything negative (about the Lakers). It wasn't the proper time. In the NBA, it's all about fits and timing, and the timing was a little bit off for the situation to work. It was perfect timing, and a great fit, for a place like Houston" (SI.com, 7/6). Rockets Owner Leslie Alexander said of landing Howard, "We were about to get one of the great players in the league to go along with the team we've assembled, and along with other things we can do in the future, we've got a chance to be contenders and win championships for many years. ... Basketball is supposed to be fun. Fun for me and fun for our fans." He added, "I thought the key moment was when (coach) Kevin McHale turned to Dwight and made the point that Hakeem Olajuwon had come from Jordan specifically for the meeting." Alexander said that he "found Howard soft-spoken and more humble than often portrayed in the media" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 7/6). YAHOO SPORTS' Adrian Wojnarowski wrote of Howard, "He needs to be the face of the franchise and he needs unconditional love." Those "weren't immediately available to him with the Lakers, and they'll be showered upon him in Houston now" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 7/7).
L.A. CONFIDENTIAL: In L.A., Bresnahan & Simers wrote Howard "ditched the Lakers despite their very public campaign to retain him, including numerous billboards around Los Angeles with his image and the simple slogan 'STAY.'" He "declined a five-year, $118-million contract offer from the Lakers" to join the Rockets, his third team in an 11-month period. Texas has "more favorable taxes on income than California, bridging the gap somewhat between the contracts offered by the Lakers and Rockets." The Lakers are "seriously considering a clampdown on spending so as to avoid paying luxury taxes next season, and to dodge the dreaded 'repeater tax,' which heavily penalizes teams that exceed the tax threshold three times in a five-year span, starting next season." Rockets execs sold Howard on their "young roster and sponsorship opportunities in China, a trail initially blazed by former Rockets center Yao Ming and continued more recently" by G Jeremy Lin. The Lakers currently only have G Steve Nash "under contract after next season, putting them an almost astonishing $50 million under the salary cap a year from now and setting up a potential summer of spending" (L.A. TIMES, 7/6). Meanwhile, VARIETY's Brian Lowry wrote Howard would “seem to be cutting himself off from a Hollywood establishment that has opened the door in the past to Laker stars, particularly centers.” NBA stars often have "fleeting careers, and the smart ones are invariably being counseled to contemplate life once they have to start wearing long pants.” Howard may be a player who "winds up leaving money on the table, long term, by snagging his big-bucks deal with the Rockets now, and putting 1,500 miles between himself and all those agents and studio moguls sitting courtside in Staples Center” (VARIETY.com, 7/5).
HAPPY IN HOLLYWOOD? In L.A., Bill Plaschke wrote Howard's departure marks a "great day for the Lakers, who will watch Howard walk to the Rockets for less money, lower expectations, and probably four more years of mediocrity." The Lakers "figured out that he wasn't really worth risking a five-year title abyss to keep him." Howard's decision-making process "seemed like an expensive game of chicken." The Lakers for the "sake of appearances" had to "make a very public pursuit of a player they really didn't want to catch." Plaschke wrote of the Lakers moving forward, "Certainly, there are huge front-office problems that sponsors and season-ticket holders will need addressed, such as, who is actually running this thing, anyway?" (L.A. TIMES, 7/6). But in L.A., Stephen Bailey wrote under the header, "Dwight Howard's Departure From Lakers Met With Disbelief" (L.A. TIMES, 7/6). SPORTS ON EARTH's Shaun Powell noted Howard "rejected the Lakers" and asked if anyone has "ever done that to the proud and tiffany franchise?" Powell: "No. Never. ... Houston is a non-threatening, low-pressure situation" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 7/6). In L.A., Eric Pincus noted Lakers G Kobe Bryant unfollowed Howard on Twitter following his announcement and then "put a picture on Instagram featuring teammate Pau Gasol with his hand on Bryant's head." Bryant wrote for the picture caption, "#vamos #juntos #lakercorazon #vino," which translates to "We go, united -- Laker heart," along with Bryant's nickname of "Vino" (L.A. TIMES, 7/6).
I MISSED THE BUSS: ESPN.com's J.A. Adande cited a source as saying that Howard left L.A. "because he didn't want to play for Mike D'Antoni and because, well, let's just say Jim Buss was less than impressive during the Lakers' meeting with Howard." Howard is "still a prisoner of his reputation, shackled to the bad choices of his past by a public that isn't willing to give him the benefit of the doubt" (ESPN.com, 7/5). ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said the reason Howard left the Lakers is because Jim Buss "wants to run this Lakers operation the way that he wants to." The Lakers are "not the Lakers of old; they are a different franchise.” Smith said they will not be the Lakers of old “until Jim Buss is moved out of the way.” Smith noted of Buss, “I’m not saying he doesn’t have basketball acumen now, I’m saying his ego usurps it. ... This man is running the Lakers franchise and he is, quite frankly, making them far more unattractive than they have ever been.” Smith continued, “If Laker Nation wants to move forward, they better get Jeannie Buss in there so you have Phil (Jackson) coming in. At least being in a position to make concrete decisions, help make concrete decisions for this franchise” (“Mike & Mike,” ESPN Radio, 7/8). Smith noted Jim Buss knew that Howard "wanted Phil Jackson and ignored him." Smith: "If you're Dwight Howard and you've been told you're the franchise player moving forward ... but then you're ignored when you’re talking to an organization ... ultimately what you're saying to him is he's not going to have much say" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 7/7). N.Y. Times columnist William Rhoden said Jim Buss is “the rich kid that is squandering the family fortune” (“The Sports Reporters,” ESPN, 7/7).
WIDENING THE GAP: In West Palm Beach, Ethan Skolnick writes after the '11 lockout which was "supposedly staged to create more competitive balance," the gap in the NBA between the "haves and the have-nots has rarely been greater than now, largely because the have-nots have an understandable interest in getting even, well, nottier." The Bulls, Pacers, Nets, Knicks, Clippers, Rockets and Warriors have "all shown a willingness to take on the Heat, Spurs and Thunder for NBA supremacy in the next year or so, while many of the other teams seem intent to rebuild." The Rockets' successful pursuit of Howard "makes for an intriguing story line in an NBA season that runs the risk of becoming a bit of a farce, with so many teams barely hiding their true intentions: to become bad enough to someday get better" (PALM BEACH POST, 7/8).