HOUSTON (AP) — 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.
The Lakers struggled all season and was swept in the first round of the playoffs. The Lakers could have offered him a five-year contract worth $118 million, but he chose to make the move to Houston with a four-year deal.
"The situation in L.A., what happened is over with," Howard said. "It didn't work out on both sides. So we have to move on. It happens in everyday life. People decide to do different things with their lives. It's just that when you're NBA and at the top of your game everybody wants to know what you're doing."
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."
Whether simply perception or reality, his feud with Bryant had some wondering if he was the problem. There were questions if he might mess up the chemistry of a team that made marked improvement in the first year with James Harden on the roster.
The Rockets brushed off that notion, and everyone has raved about Howard's personality and work ethic.
"Dwight's a great guy," coach Kevin McHale said. "Plays hard, likes to have fun, so it's just been pretty seamless to add him to the team."
Harden, who was the fifth-leading scorer in the league last season, rolled his eyes when asked if he'd be able to coexist with Howard when Bryant couldn't.
"It's my job to make it work," the 24-year-old Harden said. "He's going to teach me some things that I don't know and I'll teach him some things he doesn't know. That's the kind of partnership and friendship we're going to have in order to be successful. That's the only way you can be successful is if you be 100 percent with each other."