Les Alexander figures it’s time to get back to winning NBA titles.
After Alexander bought the Houston Rockets in 1993, the team hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy in each of his first two seasons as owner. It all looked so easy.
It hasn’t been since then. The Rockets haven’t won another NBA title, and have been unable to make it out of the first round of the playoffs in 15 of the past 16 years.
But the Rockets on Wednesday officially will sign free-agent center Dwight Howard. Alexander believes the move could lead the Rockets again to the top.
“Yes, I would think so,” Alexander said in a phone interview Tuesday with FOX Sports Florida. “We’ve got the best center in the NBA and the best two guard in the NBA (James Harden). Not many teams can claim the best at two positions in the NBA.”
We’ll see what Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant, recovering from a torn Achilles’ tendon, might have to say about whether Harden has passed him at his position. In the meantime, the Rockets have plenty to chortle about after stealing Howard away from the Los Angeles Lakers.
“I’m ecstatic to get a player of his magnitude,” said Alexander, who makes his winter home in Florida’s Palm Beach County. “I think right now you can say that (Rockets general manager Daryl Morey) will be Executive of the Year.”
Alexander said the Rockets have “always wanted” Howard. They went after him last year before he was traded from Orlando to the Lakers. The quest continued when Howard became a free agent July 1.
The Rockets sent to meet with Howard in Los Angeles a 10-man contingency, which included Alexander, Morey, coach Kevin McHale and Rockets legends Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. Former Houston star Yao Ming connected to the meeting through Skype and another former player, Dikembe Mutombo, provided a video message.
“I felt very good about it,” Alexander said of the meeting, held the night of June 30 in Los Angeles when it was past midnight EDT. “And we had a private meeting afterward at the Hotel Bel-Air, just me and him. I could see how he felt. I felt very good about it.”
Alexander wouldn’t reveal what was said in the private meeting. But five days later the Rockets got the word Howard would be joining them. Alexander said billboards are now going up in Houston to announce the big man’s arrival.
Alexander has heard the criticisms of Howard’s personality. But he doesn’t buy them.
“I’ve met him,” Alexander said. “He’s not temperamental. He’s a nice, soft-spoken man. Even my doctor that did a physical (on Howard) said he really liked him. I think he’s got a reputation that is unfair.”
Howard will sign a four-year, $88 million contract, which he can opt out of following the 2005-16 season. But Alexander is talking as if Howard will be around for a lot longer than that.
“I think the future is bright,” Alexander said of his Rockets. “We’ve got those two (Howard, 27, and Harden, 23) and (forward) Chandler Parsons and some great young players. I think we’re well positioned for the next seven to 10 years to contend.”
The signing of Howard adds to Houston’s legacy of big men. Before Alexander owned the team, the Rockets made the 1981 Finals with Moses Malone and the 1986 Finals with Twin Towers Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson. They then won the 1994 and 1995 crowns with Olajuwon starring.
“It’s better than anybody’s,” Alexander said Houston’s big-man tradition. “From Ralph Sampson to Hakeem Olajuwon, Moses Malone, Elvin Hayes, Yao Ming and Dikembe Mutombo.”
The Lakers, whose stars have included Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal, also have had quite a tradition of post players. Alexander was asked if getting Howard from the Lakers could end up moving Houston ahead of them when it comes to having the all-time greatest centers.
“I definitely do think that,” he said.
It remains to seen whether Howard can lead the Rockets to a championship. Yet Alexander figures it’s about time for another one.