The announcement of the trade's completion was made Thursday by the Timberwolves, who also dealt forward Justin Reed to Houston.
"Even Houston thinking about me is a blessing but until I see it on the ticker I won't believe it. I'm so excited," James told Houston television station KRIV on Wednesday night prior to the trade's completion. "It would give me that chance to retire in Houston."
The Timberwolves beat out Houston for James' free-agent signature last summer because of their willingness to include a trade kicker in the well-traveled point guard's four-year, $23.4 million contract, but the acquisition was questioned from the start after Minnesota landed Randy Foye in the 2006 draft.
"Maybe this will be good for both sides," James was quoted as telling the Star
Tribune in a story posted Wednesday night on the newspaper's Web
site. "You know, it's tough. Change is always tough. But, for me, it's like going back home."
James then struggled to make an impact with his new team, averaging just 10.1 points in 25.3 minutes per game and eventually losing his starting spot after enjoying a breakout season in Toronto in 2005-06.
A strong recruiting pitch from Wolves forward Kevin Garnett -- along with the trade bonus he held out for in negotiations -- convinced James to spurn similar financial offers from the Dallas Mavericks and the Rockets, even though he maintains an offseason home in Houston. But the intense Garnett and the chatty James clashed almost from the start, according to club sources, adding to the Wolves' remorse after it quickly became apparent that there wasn't rotation room for James and Foye.
"Mike did not have the type of year that Mike wanted to have,"
Timberwolves executive Kevin McHale said at a season-ending news conference. "And he didn't fill the role for us that we had hoped that he would fill as far as spreading the court and making those shots."
So the Wolves decided by midseason that they would try to move their lone significant offseason acquisition and were on the verge of sending James to Houston for Howard when the deal fell through on Feb. 22, in part because the Rockets were reluctant to change the chemistry on a team that wound up overcoming numerous injuries to win 52 games.
"I just never really found a niche for myself in that organization," James told the Associated Press. "Because of that, instead of focusing on my game, I was focusing on other things and that affected my game."
But Houston's interest in James and adding depth to its backcourt under new coach Rick Adelman hasn't wavered, thanks to the 31-year-old's successful stint with the Rockets in the second half of the 2004-05 season.
"This has been difficult," James told ESPN.com in late March when asked to describe his debut season with the Wolves. "Physically, mentally, emotionally … all of the above."
Garnett, meanwhile, is expected to welcome the arrival of Howard, a 34-year-old former All-Star, after publicly calling -- repeatedly -- for more size in the Wolves' frontcourt and more of a veteran presence in the locker room.
"He and I have a lot of respect for each other," Howard told the Associated Press in a telephone interview from his son's basketball camp in St. Louis. "Not only that, we're familiar with each other on the court, playing against each other for many years. We both come out and bring our lunch pail to work night in and night out. We're both fierce competitors."
Howard averaged 9.7 points and 5.9 rebounds in 26.6 minutes per game last season. His contract is one year shorter than James' deal, with just two seasons to run at $14.3 million.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.