The Houston Rockets' dinner presentation to free-agent center Dwight Howard at the Hotel Bel-Air centered on the franchise's championship history and an infrastructure designed to give Howard a chance at multiple titles, sources with knowledge of the meeting told Yahoo! Sports.
Houston has emerged as the frontrunner to sign the Los Angeles Lakers center, league sources said, and those close to Howard confirmed late Sunday that the Rockets did nothing to dampen Howard's enthusiasm for the possibilities of playing for Houston.
Beyond Houston Rockets owner Les Alexander, general manager Daryl Morey, his front office staff, and coach Kevin McHale, the organization brought Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler to make cases to Howard about ownership's long commitment to winning and its relationships with its iconic players.
"Hakeem didn't say much, but what did he say was very impactful," one source in the room told Yahoo! Sports. Olajuwon talked about the Rockets as a destination for championships and drew upon his own personal relationship with Howard, sources said.
Yao Ming, another former great Rockets center, connected into the meeting from China through Skype and talked to Howard about his experiences with Houston.
Rockets stars James Harden and Chandler Parsons pitched Howard about how they wanted him as a teammate, how the chemistry of the locker room would welcome him. Without bringing up the Los Angeles Lakers, the Rockets could sell two things that the Lakers likely can't: a chance for a close connection with the franchise's star players; and an immediate chance to be a championship contender.
"His main focus was winning and we will give him the best opportunity to do that," Parsons told Yahoo! Sports' Marc Spears.
Howard was flanked with his agent, Dan Fegan, and Happy Walters, the CEO of Relativity Media and an agent in the company. What those close to Howard had been saying privately for months was clearly apparent through the probing that Howard did himself with Rockets officials: Winning was his most important priority in the process, and most of the evening was spent discussing how the Rockets had a history of constructing themselves around iconic centers in pursuit of championships.
McHale made it clear to Howard that he planned to build his system around him, and that, ultimately, he would hold Howard accountable every day in the franchise's pursuit of a title. The Rockets had long believed that McHale, a Hall of Fame power forward, would be an immense asset in the recruitment of Howard. Howard had never had a head coach that could identify with him so well, who could literally look him in the eyes.
Rockets officials plan to stay in Los Angels for several days this week, meeting with free agents around the area and staying connected to Howard as he meets with the Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors, Atlanta Hawks and ultimately the Los Angeles Lakers.
Agents talking to the Rockets about potential additions to the roster say they're searching for shooters and complementary players to surround Howard. "They're progressing on everything with Dwight in mind," one prominent agent said Sunday night. "They seem very confident."
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