Howard A Welcomed Addition On The Wing

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Each day Josh Howard is working with one member of the Timberwolves assistant coaching staff after practice, carefully piecing together bits and pieces of the team’s system.

The 10-year veteran has seen a lot of different offenses—from Don Nelson to Flip Saunders, he notes—and this particular system is nothing entirely new from what he learned in stints with Dallas, Washington and Utah.

Still, there are different calls for different plays, and that combined with Howard trying to get his legs underneath him after spending the offseason up until last week as a free agent has him working with Terry Porter, T.R. Dunn and other members of the organization each day—cutting, coming off screens and polishing his jumper.

“I’ll just continue to work and get back to the old Josh Howard,” he said. “The one you were used to seeing in Dallas.”

That Josh Howard would be a welcomed addition to this Timberwolves roster. That Josh Howard had three straight seasons averaging 18 points per game, collected an All-Star appearance in 2007 and, with a combination of length and determination, made himself a top player for a Mavericks team that threatened to win championships on a yearly basis.

In Minnesota, Howard is a free-agent signee joining the team two weeks into the season. A roster depleted by injury allowed him a spot, and the 32-year-old gladly took the chance to rejoin an NBA franchise. He’s had his own knee problems, undergoing surgery three years ago and seeing his numbers drop off from the 15.1 points per game he averaged in his first seven seasons.

But even in his first possession with the Wolves against Golden State on Friday, he showed what he could do. Howard grabbed an offensive rebound, surveyed the court from the baseline and knocked down a mid-range jumper.

He was back.

“He can make plays with the ball,” coach Rick Adelman said. “Just like the other day. He took a lot of shots, and you know with his conditioning that’s tough. He’s got to mix it up a little bit, attack the basket a little bit more. I think that he’s going to be a good pick up.”

Conditioning is the piece of the puzzle Adelman said will take the most time. Howard is a veteran, so the Xs and Os will come. It’s his legs and his cardio that will take some work.

Howard knows that. He said no matter how many individual training programs he works through in the offseason, nothing will prepare him for game day like actual game play.

When he does, he could be a big contributor for a team in need of roster depth.

Howard is joining a team that lost Chase Budinger for 3-4 months and Brandon Roy for a month—both with knee injuries. That depletes the team’s depth on the wing, but Howard is a player who Adelman is confident can play both the 2 and the 3 spots.

Adelman has said throughout his stint with Minnesota that when it comes to what he’s trying to do on the court, the small forward and shooting guard spots are pretty interchangeable. That’s why Wes Johnson and Martell Webster switched between the spots last year, and it’s why Budinger moved from the 3 to the starting 2 after Roy was hurt earlier this month.

From a playbook standpoint, Adelman said the shooting guard role comes off pick and rolls more frequently, but that’s something Howard has done during his career.

Defensively, Howard is a nice complement to Andrei Kirilenko in that he’s got size and athleticism that can hang with some of the opponent’s better perimeter players.

“He’s a very skilled guy; he can do multiple things,” Porter said. “He can shoot the 3, he can put it on the floor, he can post. And he can defend and rebound for his position. He brings a lot of different things that we need as far as when you talk about the 2 and the 3. It’s going to be good to have.”

From a chemistry standpoint, Howard has fit right in. Guard Luke Ridnour said his energy is high, he can really space the floor and he understands how to play the game. A veteran himself, Ridnour said he can see Howard grasping the system quickly due to his time spent around the league.

For Howard, who said he got a feel for how much the Wolves wanted to bring him in when he met with the team in Dallas early last week, it’s been a natural fit.

“Great team chemistry—one of the best that I’ve been on,” Howard said. “I’ve been on three teams before this, and I held these guys pretty high. They come to work night in and night out. The more I’m around them, the better they get.”

With the Wolves facing Denver on Wednesday before facing a four-game West Coast trip over the holiday, whatever productivity Howard can produce will be welcomed. He can give Kirilenko a break at small forward or rotate into a guard role to help pick up minutes along with Alexey Shved and Malcolm Lee.

Either way, Howard said he feels comfortable.

“I’m kind of a forward/guard anyway,” Howard said. “So it’s just refreshing my memory doing guard things. Other than that, it’s just sticking with the program, doing what coach wants us to do and going out and playing hard.”

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