Howard ready for 'fresh start' in Houston

With some of the most notable names in Rockets history on hand, Dwight Howard began a new chapter in his NBA career Saturday in Houston.

Former Rockets stars Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, Elvin Hayes, Ralph Sampson, Yao Ming and Calvin Murphy were in attendance to welcome the newest Rockets big man, who on Saturday officially inked a four-year contract said to be worth $88 million.

"It's great to be here and have a fresh start," said a smiling Howard. "I'm so excited. It's an unbelievable opportunity for myself. I can't wait to start playing basketball, but also get out in the community and make a difference."

Howard, the most coveted free agent of the 2013 offseason, could have earned more money if he had stayed with the Los Angeles Lakers. He apparently chose Houston over the Lakers, with Dallas, Golden State and Atlanta said to be among the interested pursuers.

"I made this decision for me, I really want to be happy," Howard added. "If you can't be happy where you're playing it can't be fun."

The seven-time All-Star's lone season in Los Angeles was apparently anything but fun. He was coming off back surgery in April 2012 and had reported relationship issues with Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant and head coach Mike D'Antoni.

A shoulder injury also bothered Howard, who still earned an All-Star Game nod and finished the season averaging 17.1 points with a league-best 12.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game.

"Dwight's been a dominant player in this league for a number of years," said Rockets coach Kevin McHale. "I'm looking forward to getting to work with him."

Howard also left his first NBA home amid controversy. He spent his first eight seasons in Orlando, but was traded to the Lakers after waffling on his no- trade clause and reportedly saying he wanted head coach Stan Van Gundy fired.

The Magic selected Howard with the first overall pick of the 2004 NBA Draft. He was a three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year three straight times (2009-11) and led Orlando to the NBA Finals in 2009.

In 697 career games, Howard has averaged 18.3 points, 12.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks.

"Dwight is the biggest free-agent acquisition in the history of the Rockets," said owner Leslie Alexander in a statement Saturday. "His addition puts us in contention. This is good for the city and especially the fans. Fans are going to have a great time this year. This team will be tremendous fun to watch."

Howard will now team up with All-Star guard James Harden, along with guard Jeremy Lin and forward Chandler Parsons.

"I can't wait to get out here with these guys," Howard noted. "It's a young team. I'm looking forward to playing with these guys. We have a young team and everybody's hungry."

The Rockets were eliminated in the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs in six games by the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder.