HOUSTON — Dwight Howard has a new team and catchy new nickname.
“He’s not Superman anymore. He’s Rocket Man now,” longtime Rockets broadcaster Bill Worrell said Saturday as he introduced the team’s major free-agent acquisition.
As Howard took the stage and greeted several Houston officials including owner Leslie Alexander and coach Kevin McHale, a couple of his new teammates playfully repeated his new moniker — ‘Rocket Man, Rocket Man’ — and were met with a huge, toothy smile from Howard.
“It means a lot to me just to have a fresh start and have an opportunity to write my own story,” Howard said. “I don’t think people understood the fact that I got traded to L.A., and now I had a chance to really choose my own destiny, and this is the place where I chose and I’m happy about it.”
The Rockets gave him a four-year deal worth about $88 million, a year less and far below the $118 million the Lakers could have offered.
The center was formally introduced in Houston on Saturday after spurning the Lakers to sign with the Rockets. He was greeted by some of the brightest stars in team history.
Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon and Yao Ming were among those on hand to celebrate Howard’s signing. Also joining the party were Ralph Sampson, Clyde Drexler and Elvin Hayes.
He will be the latest in a storied line of centers to play for the Rockets. He has long worked with Olajuwon to improve his game, and “The Dream” was among the contingent that flew to Los Angeles to woo him into joining the Rockets.
Olajuwon didn’t shy away from raving about his student.
“He is the missing piece where he can really bring the team to a championship contender,” Olajuwon said.
Howard joins a team starring James Harden that reached the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and battled back from a 3-0 deficit before being eliminated by the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 6.
General manager Daryl Morey, who led the effort to land Howard, is excited about upgrading his team and knows this puts the Rockets among the preseason favorites to contend for a championship.
“I think it absolutely gives us a chance,” he said. “What you do this job for is to have a chance. The reality is five to seven teams have a chance any given year. The way it is in this league, you’ve got to have multiple All-Stars, (and) you generally have to have dominant top players — and we have two guys that we think are in the top 10 in the league in James and Dwight.”
Howard was traded from Orlando to the Lakers in a four-team trade that also included Philadelphia and Denver last year. He recovered from back surgery last season and averaged 17.1 points and 12.4 rebounds
His one season in Los Angeles was filled with unrest, including an admission that there were times that he wasn’t having fun and what many believed to be a less than positive relationship with Kobe Bryant
The Rockets believe that will change in Houston.
“If you can be a great player and can’t be happy, what difference does it make? He’ll be very happy here,” Alexander said. “Dwight recognizes that his boyhood dreams will come true as a Rocket.”
Yao made a call to Howard to help recruit the 27-year-old player to Houston. As the most recent star center to play for the Rockets, Yao is eager to see Howard take the team to “the next level.”
“I feel so happy that he chose the Rockets and I feel the Rockets will be the best fitting team for him because we have such a great, rich history of big men,” Yao said.
The Milwaukee Bucks finalized their deal free agent guard O.J. Mayo on Saturday.
The Bucks agreed to terms on a three-year, $24 million contract with Mayo last week. But thanks to a series of moves that general manager John Hammond has in the works, the Bucks had to wait until Saturday to make the contract official.
The 25-year-old Mayo averaged 15.3 points for the Dallas Mavericks last season. His signing should help the Bucks deal with the loss of J.J. Redick to the Clippers and the expected departure of Monta Ellis.
The Dallas Mavericks made their biggest free-agent play in a busy offseason, adding shooting guard Monta Ellis to a backcourt that’s still crowded even after a couple of setbacks.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said in an email Saturday that Ellis has agreed to a contract. It is reportedly a three-year deal valued between $25 million and $30 million.
The deal with Ellis was reached after first-round pick Shane Larkin broke his right ankle in summer league practice Friday. Dallas also reportedly is backing out of a three-year, $9 million deal with Devin Harris because of a toe injury.
Ellis figures to start alongside point guard Jose Calderon, another free agent who signed a four-year, $29 million deal.
The 27-year-old Ellis averaged 19.2 points with Milwaukee last season.
The Spurs re-signed center Tiago Splitter after the best season of the Brazilian center’s career.
Terms of the deal weren’t released Saturday. The contract is reportedly worth $36 million over four seasons.
Splitter started 58 of 81 games and averaged career highs at 10.3 points and 6.4 rebounds. He provided a strong pairing with forward Tim Duncan as the Spurs reached the NBA Finals and were within 28 seconds of the championship in Game 6 before Miami rallied and won the series in seven games.
The 28-year-old Splitter was drafted by the Spurs late in the first round in 2007 but didn’t join them until three years later.
Copyright © 2014, Capital City Press LLC • 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810 • All Rights Reserved