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," he 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, 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."
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