While Dwight Howard headed to the mountain air to consider where to take his talents, Daryl Morey grabbed a day to breathe before heading to Orlando, Fla., for summer league.

For nearly two years, the Rockets general manager had chased Howard one way or another. He had come tantalizingly close and fallen far short. He had tried to engineer trades, reworked his roster and cleared salary-cap room, all to bring in the player he pegged to be the next in a line of Rockets star big men stretching from Elvin Hayes through Moses Malone, Ralph Sampson, Hakeem Olajuwon and Yao Ming.
Morey could get an answer as soon as Friday, with Howard, 27, expected to emerge in the coming days with his decision. After Howard heard the pitches of five teams trying to land the NBA’s top center and most coveted free agent, Morey’s long, “Les Miserables”-worthy chase had made the Rockets a strange combination of front-runner and underdog.

The Rockets have strengths at least some of their competitors cannot match, starting with a young, ascending roster including another top talent just reaching his prime in guard James Harden.

Yet, the legacy of the Lakers and lure of Los Angeles, to say nothing of the persuasive powers of Kobe Bryant and celebrity make the leap to the Rockets or other teams seeking to lure Howard out of town seem enormous, even after his unsatisfying season in L.A.

A strong contender might have emerged Thursday. ESPN reported Golden State is trying to clear cap room to sign Howard.

Howard’s decision will have a widespread impact beyond the five teams given an audience with him in Los Angeles. But no team has pursued Howard longer or with more single-minded purpose than the Rockets.