Quotes on why he left
“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.