Josh Howard barely had time to greet the kids at Paul Charter School in Northwest on Wednesday before one of the students asked him, “You’re a free agent, right? Where are you going to play this year?”
Howard laughed and explained that he hadn’t made up his mind, but was considering returning to Washington, going to San Antonio or maybe leaving for Chicago. The 31-year-old veteran swingman hasn’t been able to avoid the questions about his future since the free agent courting period began and had a similar encounter the day before when he made a visit to the Spurs’ practice facility and bumped into all-star guard Manu Ginobili.
Howard said Ginobili, whom he faced many times as a member of the Dallas Mavericks, stopped him to talk and said, “Hey what a coincidence? We used to have a lot of battles. I said, ‘Yeah and now we’re on the same team – maybe.’ ”
The Spurs could have room for a new small forward, with Yahoo! Sports reporting that the team plans to use the amnesty provision to waive Richard Jefferson – a move that could clear up enough cap room to sign a free agent using the $5 million mid-level exception. San Antonio has met with Howard and former Wizard Caron Butler the past two days.
“Nice meeting. They let me know, expressed that they want me to be there. That’s about it,” Howard said of the Spurs. “I know San Antonio is an A1 organization, as far as everything they do. It’s kind of a mirror image of Dallas or vice versa. I know everything down there is cool. Like everything in Chicago is cool. Just have to wait and see.”
Howard doesn’t have a meeting scheduled with any other teams, but has spoken on the phone with the Wizards and Bulls. New Jersey has also expressed interest through Howard’s representatives and would seem like a natural fit, since he played for nearly four seasons in Dallas under Nets Coach Avery Johnson, advancing to the NBA Finals in 2006. Boston was reportedly interested, but Howard hasn’t spoken with the Celtics.
When asked which team was in the lead, Howard said, “None. I have four in mind that I’m not going to share. But it’s all about prayer right now. I have to lift it up to God and have Him help me out with my decision. Pretty much any team that tells me they want me to come in and play, that makes sense to me.”
Howard was back in Washington for one day to continue the “No Excuses” mentor program he established through his charitable foundation during his past two injury-plagued seasons with the Wizards. He had lunch with about a dozen students, later stopped by Verizon Center to catch up with some of his teammates from last season, and then drove back to his home in Winston-Salem, N.C., where he plans to do another charity function to provide food and clothing for the homeless.
He’ll stay home until he makes a decision about where he continues a career that has been put on pause because of some unfortunate breaks with his left knee. During his visit with the Spurs, Howard met with General Manager R.C. Buford, Coach Gregg Popovich and other members of the front office and coaching staff. He also passed a physical, with teams understandably concerned with his health after he was limited to just 18 games last season.
“Everything came back fine. I’m coming off that injury, which would actually be two years in February. They say I can’t go back, revert, so I’ll just continue to monitor it until it gets better,” said Howard, who showed his improved health at LaMarcus Aldridge’s charity game in Portland last month, when he caught an alley-oop pass from Kevin Durant, dunked and swung on the rim. “I was the oldest guy out there and LaMarcus was joking with me, like you don’t dunk no more. so when I did that, it caught him off guard.”
Howard said he was pleased to see his former Mavericks teammates Dirk Nowtizki and Jason Terry capture the championship last season, but added that their success hasn’t made more eager to join to a contender to simply chase a ring. “I think no matter where you’re at, if you can make the situation right for yourself, and the people around, it can get better,” Howard said. “Ultimately, I just want to be on a good team, where guys are coming in hungry to play and to learn.”
He remains open to returning to the Wizards, having formed relationships with John Wall, Andray Blatche, Trevor Booker and restricted free agent Nick Young. “They got pieces and they got guys,” Howard said. “The league is built off trades and I don’t want to see guys go but I know there are pieces that [General Manager] Ernie [Grunfeld] can go out and get as well. I think ultimately we have to wait until the free agent market calms down to know where we’re going to be at.”
Teams cannot make formal offers or reach oral or written agreements until Friday, when training camps are set to begin. Howard will be in North Carolina, waiting for the right offer before making a decision. “Right now, it’s still up in the air,” he said. “I have no idea, still, to this day” what the choice will be.
While spending time with the kids at the charter school, Howard admitted that the decision isn’t all about basketball. “I’ve been with, just mentoring throughout life. I know some of them have issues at home, so I make sure that when I’m in town, I make sure I get over here. So they can see me and know I’m hands on with them. That’s another reason, I keep all that in consideration for when I make my pick. My presence goes a long way for these kids.”
But Howard knew that he wasn’t going to stick around on Wednesday for a workout in Washington.
“Y’all might get some snow up here. I got to get out of here,” Howard said with a laugh.
The Wizards will probably find out soon if he’s coming back.