(Reuters) - The Houston Rockets introduced their “Superman” on Saturday with the official announcement they had signed three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard to a four-year free agent deal.
Howard, 27, said playing for the Rockets would bring a smile back on his face and help make Houston big winners, and team owner Leslie Alexander said the seven-time All-Star center could lift the team to great heights.
“He’s going to be phenomenal,” Alexander said at a news conference/pep rally, vowing that the center’s arrival made the Rockets NBA title contenders.
Houston clinched the last playoff berth in the Western Conference last season with a 45-37 record and lost in the first round to Oklahoma City.
The powerfully built Howard, who wore a Superman tee shirt and cape when he won the NBA All-Star Game slam dunk contest in 2008, said he was eager for a fresh start in Houston, where big men have thrived at the center position.
”This is very special,“ said Howard, who after forcing a trade from his original team, the Orlando Magic, spent an unhappy season with the Los Angeles Lakers. ”Words really can’t explain how I feel about being here.
“It’s a fresh start, a clean slate.”
Howard, selected with the first overall pick of the 2004 NBA Draft by Orlando, owns career averages of 18.3 points, 12.9 rebounds and 2.20 blocks per game over 697 career contests.
In 61 postseason games, he has averaged 19.7 points, 14.1 rebounds and 2.72 blocks.
Last season, coming back from back surgery and struggling to fit into the injury-hit Lakers’ scheme, he scored 17.1 points a game and pulled down 12.4 rebounds on average.
“I made this decision for me,” he said about leaving the tradition-rich Lakers, who have long been dominated by scoring guard Kobe Bryant. “I want to be happy.”
Howard will join last year’s big acquisition, shooting guard James Harden, to form a stellar one-two punch for Houston.
“If you can’t be happy when you’re playing, it’s not fun. I want to get back to being that guy who was playing and having fun but at the same time dominating,” he said.
“If we dedicate ourselves and sacrifice everything we’ve got for a championship, at the end of the season we should be holding up a trophy.”
Howard was welcomed into the fold by a collection of former star centers for Houston, including Yao Ming, Elvin Hayes, Moses Malone and Ralph Sampson.
”Dwight is the biggest free agent acquisition in the history of the Rockets,“ said owner Alexander. ”His addition puts us in contention.
“Fans are going to have a great time this year. This team will be tremendous fun to watch.”
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Gene Cherry