Posted Jul 30 2010 6:01PM
DALLAS -- The Heat called and Josh Howard listened. So did the Celtics, Bulls, Spurs, Cavaliers, Kings and Clippers. A lot of teams were interested in the former All-Star.
They just weren't interested in spending a lot of money.
Most were offering the veteran's minimum for one year, about $1.3 million. Howard wasn't insulted, which says something since he's carried a chip on his shoulder throughout his career. Coming off a knee injury, Howard understood the market just wasn't there despite the numbers he's put up throughout a seven-year career.
"We expected that," Howard said during a break from the basketball camp he continues to sponsor for kids in Dallas. "It's what you expect. It's a business.
"I kept my options open, but I always stayed loyal to Washington. They gave me the opportunity to get out of Dallas and actually play free, which I took and I appreciate them for that. I had to stay loyal to them. They wanted me to play ball for them and I feel that's probably the best place for me to be at."
Howard, 30, agreed to return to the Wizard for one year and $3 million. Incentives can push it to $4 million. The contract hasn't been signed yet, but he doesn't expect any snags as the deal gets finalized. Washington gets Howard back at a discounted rate after declining to exercise his option for this season at $11.8 million.
The Wizards were never expected to pick up the option after acquiring Howard in a seven-player deal on Feb. 13. Howard's bargaining power for this summer took a big hit when he tore a ligament in his left knee only nine days later, ending his season after playing just four games for Washington.
Heading into free agency with health concerns was tough enough. It didn't help that Howard's reputation had also taken several hits during his last few years in Dallas.
"My injury came at an unfortunate time, but I did enough to let people know that I still have game," he said. "I'm still going to be out there working hard and playing hard to get back out there for Washington."
It's a new day in Washington. Buoyed by the arrival of No. 1 pick John Wall, Wizards fans have reason to feel optimistic after a season torpedoed by Gilbert Arenas. Howard said the feeling in Washington reminds him of his early days in Dallas when the Mavericks were establishing themselves as a perennial playoff contender.
"The feeling we have there and the moves we've made kind of reminds me of my first three years in Dallas when we made a big run," he said. "We had young energy, the city was buzzing and it feels just like that in D.C. All I can do is expect great things."
Howard added that Arenas is back on board ready to make amends.
"Gil has also been through a lot, and being able to see him in the summertime and see his work ethic, I know he's coming to play," Howard said. "Chip on his shoulder or not, I know the man is coming to play. I know I have a chip on my shoulder, too. Two guys like that on the court are going to be hard to stop."
It wasn't that long ago that Howard was once one of the league's more versatile small forwards. He averaged at least 18 points for three straight seasons up to 2008-09. He was always considered Dallas' top perimeter defender.
Last season was a mess. Not only was Howard slowed by injuries to his wrist and ankle to start the season, his relationship with Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle never clicked.
"I had a great career here," Howard said. "I did a lot of things for the city of Dallas and my team. I loved it here. It wasn't a job to me. It was something that I wanted to do. I still have love for Dallas. That's what brings a smile to my face.
"No matter what was said about me, people never knew me."
Asked if he felt appreciated by the Mavericks front office, Howard replied: "They should answer that one, but I don't think so. I definitely don't think so. It they did, I would still be here."
Howard didn't do himself any favors with off-court behaviors that undercut the goodwill he built up in Dallas, where he continues to live in the offseason. From his admission to marijuana use in the offseason to comments about the national anthem to throwing a party during the playoffs, much of the damage to Howard's reputation was self-inflicted.
But he's also not the first NBA player with baggage. Right or wrong, talent erases the stigma of most sins, and Howard believes he's closer to being the player that was an All-Star in 2007 than some has-been. The knee injury, he said, is just a hiccup.
"It gave me a new reason to get better," he said. "I actually feel a whole lot better. Getting back in gym has been great. I'm going to be in great shape when my turn comes. I'm looking forward to playing and being the Josh Howard that everybody knows."
Josh Howard was tempted to take his talents to South Beach, joining fellow 2003 first-rounders LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Several other situations -- Boston, Chicago, San Antonio -- also made sense from a standpoint of competing for a title next season.
Reestablishing his career and getting a chance to play significant minutes, plus a bigger payday, made Washington the only choice in the end. Howard expects to start the season slowly, as he builds up strength and stamina in his knee. Rehab is going well, he said, with another checkup scheduled for this weekend in New York.
Howard said he's been told by Wizards coach Flip Saunders that the opportunity to start is there once he's ready. Even if Howard does get it all back on track, there are no guarantees next summer will be any different. The lockout obviously looms and Howard will be 31.
Still, he believes a multi-year contract is out there, whether it's Washington or somewhere else.
"Hopefully I'll have a big season and have my options open again, and still stay loyal to Washington," Howard said. "That's my plan. I'm going to be around in this league for a long time. I still love the game. I don't see myself quitting. I don't see any reason for me to quit."
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