Josh Howard attempting NBA comeback with summer Pelicans

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

While a few other members of the wildly-successful 2003 NBA Draft class are currently the subject of breathless ESPN reports and paparazzi-like coverage of their every move, these days Josh Howard’s surroundings are significantly more mundane. The 10-year pro, who last played in the NBA in 2012-13, is in the nearly unprecedented position of playing in summer league as a 34-year-old. Normally reserved for fresh-faced prospects in their early 20s, Howard’s trip to Las Vegas with the New Orleans Pelicans this week is an opportunity for him to reclaim an NBA roster spot after a one-season absence.

A starting small forward for the 2005-06 Dallas Mavericks team that captured the Western Conference championship before losing to Miami in the NBA Finals, Howard has already been sufficiently humbled basketball-wise. The 6-foot-7, 210-pounder spent last season in the D-League with the Austin Toros, an existence that included lengthy bus rides and reminded him of when he was a top high school player in his native North Carolina.

“Riding AAU vans was a humbling experience,” a smiling Howard said of the travel accommodations. “That was a motivation in itself.”

On his Web site, joshhoward.com, he recently recounted a 2 ½-hour drive through a snowstorm from Canton to Cleveland, a far cry from when he was in the NBA and traveled everywhere on private charter flights.

“After 11 years in the NBA, I knew coming in that that was going to be the biggest change, and even now, after the season is over, that’s the one thing that I continue to think about, and it makes me laugh,” Howard wrote in a blog. “If it hadn’t been snowing, it would have been a 45-minute drive. I think it took us two and a half hours to get there in a shuttle, the kinds of vans you see at hotels. I said my prayers.”

While playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves in December 2012, Howard sustained the second left ACL injury of his career, causing him to miss the rest of that season (coincidentally, the injury occurred in a game vs. New Orleans). Many around the league believed Howard’s career might be over – few players are forced to rehab through two ACL injuries, let alone a man in his 30s.

After 24 D-League games last season, Howard and his agent chose the Pelicans as a summer-league destination partly due to the team’s uncertainty at small forward. New Orleans does not have anyone under contract at the position with extensive NBA experience, certainly no one approaching Howard’s 507 career games, 403 starts and 66 playoff appearances. The latter is more than three times as many as any current Pelicans player (Ryan Anderson’s 20 postseason games tops the veteran roster).

“When (my agent) told me the Pelicans and the situation they had as far as the three (small forward position), we just decided to go with this one,” Howard said of choosing New Orleans. “When I found out they were kind of thin at the three, of course that was going to help me as far as opportunity.”

The career 14.8 points per game scorer, who was the 29th and final pick of 2003’s first round, sounds proud to have defied skeptics who believed his career was over two years ago. He plans to play somewhere in 2014-15, even if he’s unable to land an NBA job.

“Injury-wise, it’s been tough, because a lot of people tried to write me off,” Howard said. “But I kept working, kept fighting. I never took a year off. I played in the D-League last year. I’m just one of those guys who keeps working. I plan on making a comeback. That’s my motivation. Ultimately it’s up to the GMs and coaches to put me on the team. As far as me being prepared and ready, I put myself in the position to be that. Whatever happens. Pelicans, D-League, overseas. To have the opportunity to keep playing the game I love, you can’t beat that.”