Dwight Howard made the decision to join the Rockets in free agency this summer, but he could have been playing for Houston last season and skipped the largely unpleasant experience he had with the Lakers entirely.
Howard was in the process of forcing his way out of Orlando late in March of 2012, but ultimately opted in for the final year of his contract — a move which kept him in town through the end of the regular season, and eventually saw him traded to Los Angeles that summer.
Had he not done so, the Magic had a deal in place to trade Howard to the Rockets.
League sources confirmed that the Magic and Rockets did, in fact, tentatively agree to a trade in March 2012 that both sides were prepared to follow through on had Howard forced the Magic’s hand and kept his right to opt out after the season and become a free agent. It would’ve involved at least some of the young assets that were so attractive to Howard this summer when he chose the Rockets as a free agent. (Magic officials, according to sources, later told Rockets officials that they preferred Houston’s deal to Brooklyn’s.) Thus, while Howard gave up some money in the short term to leave LA, he wound up on a roster that didn’t have to be decimated to acquire him.
Brooklyn was reportedly a preferred destination of Howard’s, but there wouldn’t have been much left in terms of assets had Howard been traded to the Nets — a situation that long-term wasn’t all that appealing.
Howard has always had trouble seeing past the immediate future, however, and the Nets, as they did this summer by adding Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, would certainly have found a way to surround Howard with top-level talent had a trade for him materialized.
Ultimately, Howard ended up in Houston anyway, where he wanted to be and where he was wanted. But it could have happened a season sooner if only he’d had a more unwavering vision of the place where he wanted to spend his future.