Howard leaves behind an extra $30 million and an offense under Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni that he was never fully comfortable with, joining a Rockets team that could become an immediate contender in the Western Conference with the All-Star center in the middle.
"Years of work by Dwight & Rockets went into this. This team is going to be special," general manager Daryl Morey tweeted.
USA Today first reported earlier Friday that Howard would join the Rockets, where he would team with All-Star James Harden to give the Rockets a potentially potent inside-outside combination.
That didn't quite end the Howard saga, which has dragged on a couple of years. He spoke again with the Lakers amid reports he was changing his mind.
Turns out, he was just saying goodbye.
"We have been informed of Dwight's decision to not return to the Lakers," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said in a statement. "Naturally we're disappointed. However, we will now move forward in a different direction with the future of the franchise and, as always, will do our best to build the best team possible, one our great Lakers fans will be proud to support."
The Rockets can give him a four-year deal worth about $88 million, a year less and far below the $118 million the Lakers could have offered.
Around the league
Bucks • Unrestricted free agent O.J. Mayo agreed to a three-year, $24 million contract with Milwaukee, a league source told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Mayo was the Mavericks' second-leading scorer last season, averaging 15.3 points while starting all 82 games. He also averaged 4.4 assists and 3.5 rebounds while playing 35.5 minutes per game.
Mavericks • Dallas moved quickly once it was out of the running for Howard. A person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press that Dallas and free agent point guard Jose Calderon have an agreement on a four-year, $28 million contract. A starting point guard was the top priority for Dallas after the pursuit of Howard.
Clippers • The Orange County Register reported Los Angeles agreed on a deal to keep forward Matt Barnes in a Clippers uniform. The three-year deal is believed to be for $11 million, with the third year not guaranteed.
Bobcats • Free agent forward Josh McRoberts has agreed to a two-year, $5.5 million deal to remain with Charlotte, said a person familiar with the situation.