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.
“I mean, ‘Should old acquaintance be forgot?’ Does that mean that we should forget old acquaintances, or does it mean if we happened to forget them, we should remember them, which is not possible because we already forgot?”
We’re more than a month removed from the Butler-Haywood trade, and it’s already easy to forget that it was also the Howard-Gooden trade.
Josh’s exile from Dallas was long-awaited and highly anticipated by some, but for all of his struggles late in his Maverick career, his six and a half year stint with the team was undoubtedly a success. Could Howard have accomplished more as a Mav? Absolutely. Those shortcomings are well-documented, and hardly need to be revisited here. But the positives — his emergence, his All-Star appearance, his influence in the playoffs even as recently as last season — deserve numerous reminders. I can’t help but feel that his successes will always be overcast by his failures and limitations, which is a shame.
Whether we remember it now or not, there was a time where this guy meant something to Mavs fans. He stood as a pivotal component of the Mavs’ future, and he ended up that way…even if his final function as a Mav was to bring in two very good players.
Caron Butler took up some editorial space in the Washington Post to give a final goodbye to his fans in D.C. Josh Howard didn’t quite do the same, but the sentiment in a post on his blog seems equally sincere (via commenter ‘pau’):
I reflect fondly on my time in Dallas.
It was a wonderful experience. I was just talking to somebody earlier about how in my rookie year Marquis Daniels and I came in with people like Steve Nash, Dirk of course, Michael Finley, Tony Delk, Travis Best, Antawn Jamison.
Those were the veterans that I came up under so I was able to learn a lot from the jump. Then I went through my career with Don Nelson and Avery Johnson as my coaches, then the last two years with Rick Carlisle.
Coach Carlisle and I agreed on a lot of things and we had a great relationship. I wish the Mavericks the best. The trade did them good just like I think the trade did Washington good until I got hurt. I’m a fan of the game and I’m glad they’re out there playing hard, doing what they’re doing. I learned so much from playing under those coaches and with that team, so I have the utmost respect for Dallas.
I may not miss the step-back jumpers, but I will miss Josh.
Drew Gooden is a bit of a different story. He’s no stranger to being dealt, as he’s now playing for his ninth team in eight seasons. One: that’s ridiculous. Two: that’s incredibly unfortunate. Three: those of us that haven’t been in the NBA really can’t even begin to understand exactly what that’s like, to be uprooted so many times with the subtext of every move being that you’re not integral and you’re not good enough.
It’s a business. I know. I’m sure that as a player, you can feed yourself that line to make everything a little bit easier. But nine times in eight seasons? With a tenth likely on the way this summer? That’s tough. Gooden deals with it well (“But there’s been nothing bad about what happened for me, playing on a lot of different teams.”), and maybe it honestly doesn’t matter to him. Maybe he’s a true mercenary, a gun for hire that makes few judgments on the specifics of his employer.
I don’t buy it. Art Garcia of NBA.com asked Gooden about his departure from the Mavs for NBA.com (emphasis mine):
I was kind of upset because I committed myself to the team and I was so focused on winning and making a run to get in the playoffs. I knew how valuable that was and I wanted to do whatever it took to help the team accomplish that goal. I totally committed myself and bought into what coach (Rick) Carlisle was saying from the time he brought me in here. To leave that way, I was highly upset.
That doesn’t sound like “nothing bad” has happened for him, it sounds like he was leaving a situation and a team that he rather fancied. And that team, or at least its leader, fancied him too (from Marc Stein’s piece on Gooden for ESPN Dallas):
Asked if the Mavs miss Gooden’s contributions off the bench, Dirk Nowitzki said: “Hell, yeah.”
That’s quite the glowing endorsement for Drew’s service as a Mav. And he was so close to coming right back to Dallas a la Ilgauskas, but it wasn’t in the cards. Gooden’s path continues to go where it’s always taken him: around the NBA to stop after stop, with teammate after teammate, playing for coach after coach.
Gooden was only a Maverick for about half a season, but that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate what he did for the Mavs. As with Howard, I think there’s a natural inclination with Gooden to point out what he can’t do without proper respect for what he can. He was able to play some center for the Mavs, which was absolutely crucial while Erick Dampier was sidelined with various injuries. He didn’t help the Mavs to a huge win streak during that time, but he helped Dallas to tread water at a particularly vulnerable time. Pretty important.
Neither Howard nor Gooden will see their number hanging from the rafters, and frankly the thought is a bit ridiculous. Each does deserve the appropriate amount of kudos, though, even a month removed from their Maverick exits.
Sometimes it’s hard to get coaches, managers, and owners to speak up concerning the current goings-on of the team. Everything is played so close to the chest, and it’s almost like the media and the team stand diametrically opposed at times. Consumers of sports media want to know how things work — what went into making this decision, why this guy and not that guy, etc. — and ask the almighty “Why?” But the members of the team itself are also somewhat reliant on keeping that information internal. After all, you never know who might hear what, and specifics are, in this case at least, a team’s worst enemy.
But I applauded Mark Cuban’s willingness to talk about some of the Mavs’ decisions in the past, if only because it helps those of us on the outside to fill in the gaps. It’s nice to know why this or that was done, even if it’s a year or two later. And then again, sometimes when talking about decisions from the past, guys like Cuban still tip their hand a bit (perhaps intentionally). Read as much into this quote from Cuban as you’d like:
Sometimes [the players] need prompting [to figure out the best play], and the ones who don’t figure it out…I mean it’s true that’s a great point theres a subset of players that don’t figure it out, that cant figure it out, that don’t think. Those are the ones that are so blessed talent-wise that you try to make it work — like we had Gerald Green. [To the Celtics' Mike Zarren] You guys have had Gerald Green.
I just look at him and think ‘Oh my God!’ There are things that he’ll show you that are just ‘Oh my God!’ and then he just doesn’t understand the game of basketball and hopefully he’ll figure it out someday but you just keep giving him those chances. He ran out of chances (so far) this last time.
On its own, I think he’s just talking about the hyper-athletic Gerald Green and players of his ilk. But this topic was a recurring theme for Cuban in many of his panels: a guy that just can’t figure it out, that doesn’t think on the court, that isn’t a smart basketball player. Now, I could be mistaken here, but I seem to remember a lot of similar criticism being lobbed at a guy who played for the Mavs not too long ago. It would be completely unfair of Mark to take explicit pot shots at Josh Howard through media channels, but would I put it past him to perhaps offer a veiled criticism of Josh’s game? Not at all.
I’m not sure if Cuban was looking to send a message or just got stuck on a particular topic at multiple panels. But that doesn’t stop Green’s story from being any less of a condensed caricature of Howard’s career. I wouldn’t dare play team psychologist here, but from where I’m sitting, Howard’s troubles always seemed to be more mental than physical. It’s undeniable that he faced a lot in rehabbing and returning from various injuries, but the game within the game has always been to keep Josh on the same page as everyone else. He was fed shot attempts early in the first quarter, and there’s absolutely no doubt that he was treated differently than other players. That’s what it took to keep him functioning as a member of the team, and so its what the Mavericks did.
They hoped he would figure it out someday but they just kept giving him those chances. Josh just ran out of chances this last time.