By Ben Golliver
July 05, 2013
Mitch Kupchak (right) was unable to keep Dwight Howard with the Lakers. Mitch Kupchak (right) was unable to keep Dwight Howard with the Lakers. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images Sport)

Just 329 days after he stood side-by-side with Dwight Howard at an introductory press conference, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak issued a statement Friday confirming that Howard would be leaving Los Angeles to sign with the Rockets.

"We have been informed of Dwight's decision to not return to the Lakers," Kupchak said in a statement. "Naturally we're disappointed."

Howard, 27, averaged 17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in his only season with the Lakers after being acquired from the Magic in a 2012 trade. He earned selection to the All-Star team and the All-NBA Third Team.

The Lakers, who were eliminated in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, are now left with no choice but to regroup without their starting center. L.A. currently has no other true centers on the roster, although Pau Gasol has often seen time at the position. All-Star guard Kobe Bryant is rehabilitating from a season-ending Achilles injury, clouding the Lakers' picture.

"We will now move forward in a different direction with the future of the franchise and, as always, will do our best to build the best team possible, one our great Lakers fans will be proud to support," Kupchak said. "To Dwight, we thank him for his time and consideration, and for his efforts with us last season. We wish him the best of luck on the remainder of his NBA career."

L.A. is set up to have significant cap space next summer when the current contracts for Bryant, Gasol and other key players expire.

The Lakers tried hard to retain Howard, putting up billboards around Los Angeles encouraging him to stay and meeting with him earlier this week. Howard instead opted for the Rockets after also considering the Mavericks, Warriors and Hawks.

Howard can't officially sign until the free-agent moratorium ends Wednesday.

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