Dwight Howard is happy again.
He says he has put his disappointing and drama-filled season in Los Angeles behind him. He seems ecstatic about joining the Houston Rockets and helping the young team compete for a championship — and maybe, just maybe, he will return to form as the NBA’s most dominant big man.
“I’m in a better place mentally, physically and spiritually now,” Howard said.
His delight is evident in watching him interact with his new teammates. He wears a broad smile and fits of laughter are common as he chats with his fellow Rockets.
Howard spurned the Lakers to sign an $88 million deal with Houston, joining James Harden and a team that made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2009.
He wouldn’t get into specifics about the problems in his short stint with the Lakers after he was traded there in August 2012 from Orlando as part of a four-team trade. But most agree that he had a strained relationship with Kobe Bryant in a season where he has admitted that he wasn’t having fun at times.
Howard lights up when asked about his new teammates and talks endlessly about the fun they’ve had in bonding both on and off the court. When asked if that aspect of the move was the most important to him after last season, his response was telling — even if he wouldn’t specifically address the Lakers.
“For any team to be successful you have to have a great environment,” he said. “You don’t want to work in a bad place.”
NBA Finals changing schedule format
The 2-3-2 NBA Finals format is following David Stern out of the league.
NBA owners unanimously voted Wednesday to return to the 2-2-1-1-1 format, believing the travel inconveniences that teams faced when Stern became commissioner nearly 30 years ago no longer exist.
Beginning with the 2014 Finals, the higher-seeded team will host Games 1, 2, 5 and 7. The lower seed gets Games 3, 4 and 6, following the same format the NBA uses in all other rounds.
The current format was instituted in 1985, Stern’s first full year in charge, in part to ease the amount of cross-country travel with the Celtics and Lakers frequently meeting for the championship. But critics felt it gave an edge to the lower-seeded team.
Around the league
Cavaliers • Cleveland picked up the fourth-year contract options on All-Star guard Kyrie Irving and forward Tristan Thompson. The team also exercised the third-year options on guard Dion Waiters and forward Tyler Zeller.
Kings • Assistant coach Brendan Malone resigned. The team said it accepted Malone’s resignation, but did not disclose why Malone resigned. Malone is the father of new Kings coach Michael Malone. He has 27 years of NBA experience.