As he left the morning shootaround at Energy Solutions Arena on Friday before taking on his former team, Josh Howard carried a plastic bag that held a red, white and blue Wizards jersey with his name on it. Wizards equipment manager Jerry Walter gave it to him, since it had already been made and wasn’t going to do much more than take up space in a closet.
“I guess they wanted me to come back,” Howard said with a laugh.
The Wizards had hoped to re-sign Howard last December, but he left for more money and a better opportunity to win in Utah. Howard didn’t exactly have the Wizards wishing he had chosen otherwise during the Jazz’s 114-100 victory, as he went scoreless in just over 13 minutes played.
But he has managed to stay healthy and has played more games this season for the Jazz (25) than he did in 1½ injury-plagued seasons in Washington (22) – which were sullied by him tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in his fourth game.
“No ill-effects with my knee. Of course, you have the typical soreness, with the compacted season,” said Howard, who has missed three games this season. “I’m going through the same things pretty much every player is going through. I’m good.”
Howard is averaging 7.6 points this season, slightly down from his numbers last season with the Wizards, but has had three starts and a few decent performances for a Jazz team that has more depth at the wing positions. He has scored at least 17 points four times and is pleased with his decision to return to the Western Conference, where he spent his first 6½ seasons with the Dallas Mavericks.
The Jazz (15-14) has struggled of late, going 3-7 in its past 10 games, but Howard said he has enjoyed the opportunity to reunite with his former Dallas teammate Devin Harris, a good friend in Al Jefferson and a fierce competitor in Raja Bell. Utah is also building a core of young players, with four lottery picks the past two seasons in Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks.
“I just looked at the young talent here and weighed the options, what everybody had to offer and I figured I could fit in best here for this one year and see how it goes,” Howard said.
Howard still maintains relationships with his former teammates in Washington, staying in contact with Trevor Booker, checking in on John Wall and JaVale McGee sent him a text message a few days before the game. After the game on Friday, Howard waited outside the Wizards locker room to greet some of the players.
“I just think they are still young,” Howard said. “They still need to be consistent with what they do, believe in what they do, believe in the coach and the schemes and what he wants them to do. You’ve got to be a believer to win in this league.”
Howard added that he was surprised to see Flip Saunders dismissed after 17 games.
“I thought they were going to give him a little bit longer to do his thing, as far as getting a new gym, new uniforms, new atmosphere,” he said. “But [Randy Wittman] is a great coach. He’s had the opportunity to coach in this league before. It’s up to the players to buy into the system and play hard.”
Howard said the jersey that he never got to wear wasn’t going to go to waste. “It’s a nice gesture and I do appreciate it. Going to frame it and put it up with the rest of the jerseys and show my kids what kind of daddy they had, as far as playing basketball. Also, make sure they believe me.”