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Rockets land free agent Howard

After weeks of speculation, free agent center Dwight Howard is heading to Houston, crushing the Hawks' hopes of landing the Atlanta native.

After weeks of speculation, free agent center Dwight Howard is heading to Houston, crushing the Hawks' hopes of landing the Atlanta native.

LOS ANGELES - The tug-of-war between five teams to sign Dwight Howard appeared to be over on Friday with multiple media outlets reporting that the seven-time All-Star center was heading to the Houston Rockets.

The Los Angeles Lakers confirmed they had lost the battle to retain the 27-year-old, who joined the team from the Orlando Magic in a blockbuster 12-player trade in Aug. 2012.

“We have been informed of Dwight’s decision to not return to the Lakers. Naturally we’re disappointed,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said in a statement.

“To Dwight, we thank him for his time and consideration, and for his efforts with us last season. We wish him the best of luck on the remainder of his NBA career.”

Howard, who had also been courted by the Dallas Mavericks, the Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors, had favoured a move to Houston despite the prospect of a substantial paycut, reports said.

Howard would have been eligible to sign for five years and $118 million with Los Angeles or four years and $88 million with any other team.

ESPN said on Friday that Howard had also informed the Mavericks, the Hawks and the Warriors that he would not be signing with any of them.

Earlier in the day, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted: “While we are excited & cautiously optimistic @DwightHoward might choose Houston, we have not yet heard about his decision.”

Free agent Howard, a three-time NBA defensive player of the year, popularly known as ‘Superman’ for his athletic prowess, consulted all five teams earlier this week.

The Lakers met with Howard on Tuesday and their pitch focused on how they would be able to embellish his brand off the court while returning on-court greatness to a franchise that has piled up 16 NBA championship titles.

Lakers All-Star Kobe Bryant, a five-time NBA champion, played a key role in the woo-ing.

However, Bryant and Howard did not always see eye-to-eye last season under the guidance of coach Mike D’Antoni, and the Lakers were eliminated from the first round of the playoffs.

The prospect of being the kingpin on an ambitious Rockets team which also includes James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and promising center Omer Asik was always likely to be an alluring one for Howard.

His arrival in Houston would instantly make the Rockets genuine contenders for the Western Conference championship.