Houston's up-and-coming roster had a rising star to help handle the scoring duties in James Harden, and was flush with perimeter threats to keep opposing clubs from collapsing on Howard's interior game. Banking on the continued development of those young players, this year's star free agent said he felt that the Rockets gave him the best chance to win his first NBA title.
The other elements driving his decision—no state income tax, Houston's unique connection with the Asian market, a coach better suited to maximize his talent, a less intrusive media—were all added bonuses.
Howard claims he kept an open mind during his whirlwind free-agency period, which included face-to-face meetings with each of the top five teams pursuing him.
But Los Angeles Lakers point guard Steve Nash, appearing on L.A.'s "Mason & Ireland Show" on ESPN Radio, said he thought the Lakers were fighting a losing battle from the beginning (via Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times):
Frankly, I thought before the meeting that we really didn't have a chance. I'd like to think that after the meeting, we had a chance, but ultimately, I think Dwight wasn't comfortable here and didn't want to be here.
The Lakers didn't want to convince Howard to stay—they merely wanted to let him know that he'd be welcomed back with open arms if that was his decision.
Nash said if Howard had already mentally checked out of L.A., there was no use in trying to force him to stay:
If he doesn't want to be here, there's no point for anyone in him being here, so we wish him the best and move on. I heard he said to the media that he never quite felt embraced in L.A. He never quite felt maybe supported, and that's basically it. In some ways you can read into that what you will.
It sounds like the Lakers have already washed their hands of this fruitless one-year experiment.
And, if Nash's gut feeling was correct, it sounds like Howard may have beaten them to the punch.