(REUTERS) - 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 centre was heading to the Houston Rockets.
Howard, who joined the Los Angeles Lakers from the Orlando Magic in a blockbuster 12-player trade in August 2012, had been favouring a move to Houston, despite facing a substantial paycut by opting to leave the Lakers, reports said.
The 27-year-old, who had also been courted by the Dallas Mavericks, the Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors, was eligible to sign for five years and US$118 million (S$150.6 million) with Los Angeles or four years and US$88 million with any other team.
ESPN said on Friday that Howard had informed the Mavericks, the Hawks, the Warriors and the Lakers that he would not be signing with any of them, though the Lakers said they had not yet been given news about Howard's decision.
"He hasn't finalised his decision but we hope and expect him to make a decision today or tomorrow," Howard's agent, Dan Fegan, was quoted as saying by the Los Angeles Times.
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 who is popularly known as 'Superman' because of his athletic prowess, consulted all five teams earlier this week.
The Lakers met up with Howard on Tuesday and their pitch focused on the future - on how they would be able to embellish Howard's 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 trying to woo Howard, telling him: "You need to learn how it's done first, and I can teach you here.
"I know how to do it and I've learned from the best - players who have won multiple times over and over." However, Bryant and Howard did not always see eye-to-eye last season under the guidance of coach Mike D'Antoni before 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 centre 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.