"It was expected," said O'Neal of Howard's defection during a news conference Saturday at Daytona International Speedway. "We've all been in L.A., and not a whole lot of people can handle being under the bright lights."
O'Neal was serving as a grand marshal for NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series race.
"Everybody want to do it, but when you get there, there are certain pressures," he continued. "I think it was a safe move for him to go to a little town like Houston. That's right, little town. I said it."
O'Neal won three titles with the Lakers from 2000-2002. The team traded him when a suitable contract extension couldn't be reached, and O'Neal won a fourth championship with the Miami Heat.
The free agency period began on July 1. Howard announced his decision on Friday.
The Lakers and Rockets finished the season with identical 45-37 records. Howard spent one season with the Lakers following an off-season trade from the Magic.
ALSO:Kobe Bryant 'unfollows' former teammate Dwight Howard on Twitter