Josh Howard hasn’t been a Maverick for five months, and he hasn’t been a real contributor to the team for a bit longer. He had supposed attitude problems, frequent injury troubles, a few run-ins with the law, admitted drug usage, turned into a bit of a black hole on offense, scaled down his defensive intensity, and became a questionable locker room influence. Josh’s exit from Dallas was anything but graceful, and yet I can’t help but root for the guy. I hope he succeeds in Washington. I hope he finds what he wants out of his NBA career, and works hard to attain it. I sincerely hope he gets himself back into quasi-All-Star form, and proves everyone who ever doubted him — because of anything on or off the court — horribly, horribly wrong. I want to be wrong about Josh. I really, really do.
I just don’t think I will be.
Howard will likely never live up to what the Mavs wanted him to be, and his persistent injuries will play a big part in that. Still, even if he isn’t an All-Star, Josh can live out his NBA days in peace. He can find a new kind of success with the Wizards, even if it doesn’t quite match up to the promise he showed in the ’05-’06 or ’06-’07 seasons, or hell, even the 2009 playoffs. The flashes are definitely still there, but I fear that Howard has too many mental and physical hurdles to overcome in matching(much less besting) the player he once was. The complexion of his game is just fundamentally different, and while it’s rather difficult to pinpoint the source of that change, it’s what currently defines him as a player.
For Mavs fans, it was never about the admission of marijuana use. It wasn’t about the drag racing incident. It wasn’t about disrespecting the national anthem. It wasn’t about throwing a birthday party during a difficult playoff series. It was about Josh not playing well because he wasn’t playing like himself. It was frustration over one of the most important Mavericks rarely seeing the floor, and sometimes struggling to produce when he did. Mavs fans formed a bond with Josh when his rise coincided with the team’s, and they feared what it meant when he finally regressed.
For $4 million, the Wizards could have done so, so much worse. They needed a good small forward, and they got one. Josh needed a team, and he found one. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Washington will be his new home, but a new deal and a nearly clean bill of health (Josh won’t be ready for training camp, but should be good to go by October) give Howard something resembling a fresh start. Now it’s on him to make the most of it.
Please, Josh. Prove us all wrong.