With Howard going to Houston, other suitors make their moves as NBA free agency begins

Just about every NBA team would like Dwight Howard. Only the Houston Rockets could get him, and on Wednesday a couple of his other suitors announced their backup plans — while one lost out on another big target.

Just about every NBA team would like Dwight Howard.

Only the Houston Rockets could get him, and on Wednesday a couple of his other suitors announced their backup plans — while one lost out on another big target.

Paul Millsap is headed to Atlanta. The Golden State Warriors acquired Andre Iguodala. But the Dallas Mavericks missed out on another centre when Andrew Bynum agreed to sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Los Angeles Clippers never had to look beyond their top target, with Chris Paul committing to stay on the first day of free agency. They also added Darren Collison, Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick to a team that won the Pacific Division last season, surpassing the Lakers as the best team in Los Angeles.

“We’re loaded at every position,” said Matt Barnes, who re-signed with the Clippers. “Who doesn’t want to play with Chris? He’s arguably the best point guard in the game. It just shows this organization has come a long way. They’re making the right moves.”

It’s hard to see anything changing in Los Angeles next season after Howard passed on re-signing with the Lakers and instead opted for the Rockets in a deal that still hadn’t become official as of Wednesday night.

That was the first day transactions could be completed and contacts signed following the completion of the NBA’s moratorium period. The Rockets couldn’t wait to talk about their All-Star centre, getting fined $150,000 by the league on Tuesday for premature comments about Howard on TV and in social media.

The rest of the league waited until rules allowed Wednesday.

The Clippers held a press conference for Paul, the three new players and the re-signed Barnes and Ryan Hollins on what Paul called “one of the biggest days in franchise history.”

While they were celebrating, Bynum was meeting with Dallas, another team that wanted Howard. But he went with a previous two-year offer from the Cavs, according to a person who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal was not yet announced.

Bynum was part of the four-team trade that sent Howard from Orlando to Los Angeles last summer, but never played a game for Philadelphia because of knee problems.

Charlotte got bigger by adding Utah centre Al Jefferson, while his former Jazz teammate Millsap is also bound for the Southeast Division with the Hawks. Atlanta missed out on Howard, and forward Josh Smith left for a $54 million, four-year deal with Detroit, but the Hawks bounced back by giving Millsap a two-year, $19 million contract.

“We’ve been following Paul for a year, hoping for the opportunity to have him on our team,” general manager Danny Ferry said. “His competitiveness, night in and night out, is unique. He’s not like most players.”

The Jazz also got involved in the deal that landed Iguodala with the Warriors, who gave him a four-year, $48 million deal last week. Golden State cleared more than $24 million by sending Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins and Brandon Rush to the Jazz along with four draft picks and cash. Denver received guard Randy Foye from the Jazz.

Chris Andersen signed a $1.7 million, one-year deal to stay with the Miami Heat, who will have to hold off some stronger challengers next season in the Eastern Conference. Indiana re-signed power forward David West and added C.J. Watson as a backup point guard, while the Chicago Bulls improved their outside shooting by signing Mike Dunleavy.

The New York Knicks hope they did, too, with the acquisition of Andrea Bargnani. However, the former No. 1 overall pick from Italy struggled during an injury-plagued 2012-13 season for the Toronto Raptors, who shipped him to New York for Steve Novak, Quentin Richardson, Marcus Camby and three future draft picks.

The NBA’s other big deal of the off-season, the trade sending Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce from Boston to Brooklyn, will be completed Friday. The Nets could pay more than $70 million in taxes in the first season of the NBA’s harsher penalties for teams who exceed the limit.

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