Hours into the 2020 NBA free agency period, veteran center Dwight Howard thought he had a deal on the table to return to the Los Angeles Lakers. As expected, the first-time NBA Champion was excited. So, he tweeted out he wasn't leaving L.A.
Minutes later, he deleted the announcement. As it turned out, Howard was not inking a one-year deal to return to the Lakers as he thought he was. After realizing Los Angeles wasn't prioritizing him, Howard weighed his other options.
In the meantime, the Philadelphia 76ers aggressively pursued the backup center. Before, it was rumored that Sixers big man Joel Embiid was responsible for recruiting Howard to Philly. But according to Howard himself, hearing from Doc Rivers and Rajon Rondo helped him decide to sign a one-year deal with the 76ers.
"Doc [Rivers] was the only coach who called me during this free agency process,” Howard revealed on Wednesday during a virtual sit-down with the media. “[He was] the first one to call me, and he said ‘We want you. We want you on our team.’ Then Daryl [Morey] called, and I said this is where I need to be right now. This is where my journey is calling me. I was super happy that Doc called me and gave me an opportunity, and I told him yes.”
The 76ers knew when they hired Doc Rivers, they'd have an advantage beyond the Xs and Os and the on-court scheme. For the last seven seasons, the Sixers rolled with Brett Brown, who was on his first NBA head coaching job, which began in 2013.
When it comes to Rivers, he's got over 20 years of coaching under his belt and has earned the respect of his players throughout that time.
Therefore, when a player like Dwight Howard is doing his research on Rivers, he's bound to hear good things, making it easier for the 76ers to sign respected veterans within the NBA.
In this case, Howard reached out to his former Lakers teammate, Rajon Rondo, who played for Rivers when he was with the Boston Celtics. “Rondo was probably a big contributor [to helping me make up my mind]," Howard mentioned.
“Just talking with him and the relationship he had with Doc. So I would say Doc and also Elton Brand [helped me get here]."
Last Friday, the 76ers landed Howard on a one-year deal, which is reportedly worth $2.6 million.
With Howard at the center position for the 2020-2021 NBA season, the Sixers have perhaps the best backup Joel Embiid has ever had since the three-time All-Star had taken the court in Philly four seasons ago.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter: @JGrasso_