HOUSTON – Everywhere you turn in Houston, there's no mistaking the fact that Dwight Howard has officially arrived.
His Godzilla-sized likeness is plastered on a four-story tall poster just outside the Toyota Center that reads "Legacy of Bigs," with Howard overlooking the likes of Yao Ming, Hakeem Olajuwon, Ralph Sampson, Elvin Hayes, and Moses Malone. The real-life version of Howard has made plenty of appearances, too, none more unexpected than his visit with teammate Chandler Parsons to a local high school football game late last week that sent the locals into a frenzy.
But when it comes to the path that brought him here, the July 5 announcement that he had decided to leave the Los Angeles Lakers and an extra $30 million behind in Los Angeles, he wants to make one thing clear that wasn't on that day: he never waffled.
PERFECT PAIR: What Harden offers that Kobe couldn't
JURY OUT: Asik not overjoyed with Howard signing
Howard, whose infamous indecisiveness during the accurately-dubbed "Dwightmare" in Orlando added to the decline of his once-sparkling image, was on a plane from Aspen, Colo. to Los Angeles when reports surfaced claiming that – despite a USA TODAY Sports report revealing his decision to join the Rockets – he was having second thoughts. The news sparked the latest public bashing of Howard in the social media world, with fans and media alike criticizing him for what appeared to be another dose of unnecessary drama. The problem, Howard said, is that it never happened.
"That was not the case," Howard told USA TODAY Sports. "I was very upset about it when all that stuff started to come out because that's not what was going on. I decided … the night before it came out, and my thinking was, 'Let me get back to L.A. and sit in front of (Lakers general manager) Mitch (Kupchak) and give the Lakers that respect.' I wanted to tell them in person.
"There was no (thought of), 'Oh man, hold up, let me think about this again.' The night before, when I had decided, I sat down with everybody – my agent, my best friend who was there, and my bodyguard, and we talked. I said this is where I want to go. I told my Dad that this is where I want to go. I said tomorrow, when I get home, we're going to talk to the Lakers. I'm going to tell the other teams on the phone, and that's what I did."
For all the missteps that Howard had made in recent years, this plan was sound. He had met with the Rockets, Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks, and the Atlanta Hawks inside a Bel-Air hotel, then retreated to the Rocky Mountains to make his decision with a clear mind. After talking to Kupchak, with whom he had an extremely positive relationship, he would announce his decision to the world on Twitter.
"I just didn't like the way that it happened," Howard said. "I wanted to wait as long as possible until I talked to the Lakers. I didn't want Mitch to turn on his TV or get an e-mail from somebody saying this is what Dwight did and I didn't contact him first. I wanted to give him the respect, and the Lakers the respect, in telling them before it got put out there.
"I felt like for them it wouldn't have been personal enough. They were the team that decided to take me from Orlando, so I wanted to give them that respect – especially Mitch, because that was somebody who I had conversations with all summer. I wanted to let him know personally, and to thank him for the opportunity to play for the Lakers."
As for why he didn't take the opportunity to continue playing for the Lakers, time – or Father Time, to be more precise – played as big a part as any. The 27-year-old Howard clearly saw the 24-year-old James Harden as a more worthy running mate than the 35-year-old Kobe Bryant. And while the notion that the Lakers kingdom could eventually be his after Bryant retired years from now and fellow superstars were brought to town was appealing, Howard learned last season that he had no time to wait.
Despite playing in 76 games and in the Lakers' first-round playoff loss to the San Antonio Spurs, Howard – who underwent back surgery in April of 2012 – wasn't himself physically for most of the season. And while he's much closer to full strength this time around, he's not getting any younger.
"A lot of people say, 'Well, if you would've waited a couple years, then this could've been yours (with the Lakers),' And I'm like, 'In a couple years, I'm 30,'" Howard said. "I don't want to wait. I've been in the league 10 years. I don't want to wait for things to happen. I want to be aggressive, to make things happen. And I'm looking at all these young guys who are just ready, and they're missing one piece. And I'm like, 'I could be that piece, and I don't want to miss my chance.
"James Harden doesn't come by every 10 years. It doesn't happen. It's no knock on other players who I played with, but you're talking about all these guys who are young and are going this way, going up, so I'm like, 'Man, this is a great spot for me. A great town, great organization.' They're going this way (points up)."
Even with all the mystique that came with the Lakers and their 16 titles, Howard went with the franchise that fit him now.
"Other teams have more history, but yesterday's scores don't win today's games," he said. "You've got to look at the now. What's in the now? What can we do now? Nobody cared about what I did eight years ago, they want to know what I can do now, and it's the perfect team for me."