Posted Feb 3 2010 1:37PM
Maybe it's time for Josh Howard to leave Dallas. Even if he or the Mavericks don't say it directly, a split appears best for both parties.
Howard has become a fashionable whipping boy among fans and media in and around Dallas, despite once being among the area's more popular players. His production this season, injury woes over the last two years and the team's recent struggles get tied together, leaving Howard in knots.
"I never said I don't want to be here," Howard told NBA.com. "It's as much a shock to me. I've only played  games. I haven't even got to two months [worth of games] yet. I don't know why everybody is ganging up on me."
Howard started the season on the inactive list after offseason ankle and wrist surgeries. He returned to the starting lineup briefly before missing nearly another month. He's shuffled between the second and first unit before the latest switch to the bench two weeks ago. Howard said that change wasn't explained by the coaching staff.
"I'm just doing whatever the coaches want me to do," Howard said. "They didn't give me a reason why they ain't starting me, so I don't know. I ain't been cussing, I ain't been fussing, I ain't been tripping."
By all accounts, Howard hasn't been a disruptive force in the locker room. Still, the trade rumors have swirled, with Toronto and Sacramento being the most recent. A change of address seems like only a matter of time. Howard's contract qualifies as extremely tradable, but he sees himself as more than just a trade chip.
"It's not like [other teams] think I'm sorry in this league," he said. "I know that for a fact. If it's meant for me to get traded, it's going to happen. That's not even my concern. My concern is winning."
Howard is earning $10.9 million this season and next year's $11.8 million salary is a team option. The 29-year-old former All-Star essentially has an expiring deal, if the Mavs or whatever team he's dealt to decide not to pick up the option. That's key in today's economic climate.
"Yeah, I've known that," Howard said of his contract. "That's just the way the dice roll. I can't sit up here and pout and moan. I'm a professional. It's not like I've tripped out and done something crazy. I've been around here a long time."
Whether it's by the Feb. 18 trade deadline or sometime this summer, Howard is resigned to the idea next season his uniform won't read "Dallas" across the front. Should he remain with the Mavs past this month's deadline, he has no illusions as to Mark Cuban picking up the last year of an original four-year, $42-million deal.
In his last game as a starter, Jan. 18 at Boston, Howard starred defensively in the second-half comeback as the Mavericks pulled out an impressive 99-90 win. He became sick before the next game at Washington, where Carlisle plugged Jason Terry into the starting lineup.
The starting assignment has jump-started Terry, who's been mired in his own shooting slump for much of the season. Howard's move back to the bench seemed to make sense from a statistical and team angle, as well. He averaged 11.1 points on 31 percent shooting in seven games (4-3 record) as a starter. In Howard's first 14 games off the bench going into the Jan. 22 game at Philadelphia, the numbers were 13.1 points on 42 percent and a 10-4 mark.
Howard's 11.8 ppg and 3.6 rpg in 26.2 minutes this season are his lowest since his rookie year. He played a season-low 11 minutes and scored two points in Monday's loss at Utah.
"I don't know what [the team's] plans were for me," Howard said. "All I did was buy into whatever they had for me. I came back earlier than what I should have, then I had to sit down. I rehabbed and did everything they wanted to do, and came back to the bench and did what I was supposed to do. I started again and then they came to me and told me to sit on the bench again. It ain't me. I know it ain't me."
There's a part of Howard that professes his love for Dallas and the Mavericks, and a willingness to stick it out with the only team he's played for. But there's also an obvious frustration.
The front office -- Cuban, Carlisle and general manager Donnie Nelson -- continually back Howard publicly. Jason Kidd said recently it's up to the veterans to make sure Howard is "on board" and "focused on doing his job." Body language from his teammates on the court, particularly Dirk Nowitzki, suggests frustration with Howard's shot selection at times.
Regardless of the future, Howard sounds ready for the open market this summer.
"I don't know if my time is up here, but I still have a [load] of talent to offer," he said. "Only playing half a season last year and only  games this year, I've got my legs. I know I'm going to get picked up regardless. That's not even a concern.
"With how things are being handled here right now, all I can do is roll with it."
The Celtics breathed a sign of relief this week with the news of Paul Pierce's foot, which is sprained after fears it might be broken. Losing their All-Star small forward for an extended period would have been a huge blow to the Eastern Conference contenders.
As it is, Boston is limping into the All-Star break thanks to injuries and inconsistency. The Celtics (30-16) continue to lead the downtrodden Atlantic Division despite going just 7-11 since Dec. 27. Longtime Celtics great and current NBA TV analyst Kevin McHale, though, said it's no time to panic.
"They are getting where they want to be," McHale said. "When you get to the age where Kevin Garnett is, and Paul Pierce and Ray Allen is, it's always going to be after the All-Star break. You do pace yourself. When you're 22 or 23 you're out there going gung ho, you have no idea what you're doing anyway. You're playing on energy and running around.
"As you get older you start conserving your energy and you start to realize you can be 40-10 at the All-Star break. If you play poorly down the stretch and don't get in the playoffs on a roll, healthy and playing well, it doesn't make any difference."
Del Harris has decided to leave the NBA, returning home to the Dallas area after two months as an assistant on the staff of Nets interim coach/general manager Kiki Vandeweghe. Harris, 72, stopped short of calling it a retirement.
He hopes to resume duties as the general manager of the D-League team in Frisco, Texas, which begins play this fall, and work with the Mavericks. The Frisco franchise is co-owned by Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson.
Harris said the losing in New Jersey was tough, but that's not why he left.
"I had not experienced such a losing situation since 1983 [in Houston, which went 14-68], but because the players are such good people, the losing of games did not become the chaotic situation that has happened to so many teams who were locked into a total rebuilding year," said Harris, whose NBA career began in the 1970s and includes more than 500 wins as a coach.
"The reason for the timing of my return is that I came to help Kiki in his first venture into team coaching. I have seen Kiki go from a man who was trying to encourage a team that was down to one who has developed a good sense of coaching. I believe in these recent games there is strong evidence that the team has gotten over the hump and will be much more competitive the rest of the way. This experience will help Kiki in his role as general manager immensely. Every GM can gain from having the coaching experience."
The bonuses doled out next week when the NBA's best and brightest descend on Dallas won't change anyone's lifestyle. But it's not chump change, either.
The winners of the weekend's main events, from the actual All-Star Game to the Saturday night participants, will each pocket a cool $35,000. The smallest payout is $4,500 to the three who don't get out of the first round of the Three-Point Contest.
The complete prize money breakdown:
|A look at what each All-Star Weekend event nets in terms of cash|
"I knew I was going to get on the floor, but I didn't think I was going to play 25 minutes."
-- Coby Karl on his first game with Golden State after an NBA D-League callup
1. Because the Western Conference is so deep, the league should stage an NIT of sorts for the teams not in playoffs. Madison Square Garden should be free this postseason.
2. The Warriors should be eligible for NBA D-League playoffs.
3. When it comes to stink at the AT&T Center, what's worse: the annual rodeo or the Spurs' last homestand?
4. Count on the press conferences from Stan Van Gundy and George Karl being just as entertaining as the All-Star Game.
5. I once wanted to tell this girl in middle school I liked her, but Yahoo! broke the news before I saw her in study hall.
AG: Did you think of yourself as a replacement for Shaquille O'Neal?
CF: I can't think of it that way. I just have to be myself. They brought me in here for a reason and that was to help this team get back to what they're used to, and that's winning and going to the playoffs. I think I bring a lot of things to the table. I just want to be a complimentary player to STAT [Amar'e Stoudemire] and the rest of the guys, and give them an opportunity to play the way they need to play to be successful.
AG: Seems you've fit in nicely.
CF: I definitely feel like I'm fitting in. I have to make sure I don't run a one-mile marathon. For me it's mainly just trying to put a full game together, shooting, rebounding, defending and just working with everybody.
AG: You guys certainly aren't bruisers.
CF: We might be the smallest team in the league in weight and height. I think it gives us an advantage. If we have all five guys go to the glass, three or four of the five that take the ball up the court and start the break. Just we the players we have, I think everybody is going to do their job and it'll make everybody a little bit better because everybody is going to need to make a conscious effort to go in there every single time.
AG: Is starting or coming off the bench an issue?
CF: You look at our bench and we have some great guys. We have some guys that can guard, that are going out there to defend and bring some great energy to the game. All those guys coming off the bench can easily start on other teams and contribute.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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