Josh Howard doesn’t know when or if the phone call is coming, he only knows that he wants to be ready. Four days a week, Howard trains in Dallas with the hope that eventually some team will find the value in adding a former all-star small forward who has been to the NBA Finals and reached the playoffs in seven of his nine seasons.
“I’m just a surprise waiting to happen for anybody that picks me up,” Howard, a former Wizard, said in a recent telephone interview. “Of course, I am at the end of my career, as far as what they consider older guys, but I’ve got a lot left in the tank.”
The new collective bargaining agreement has left several 30-something, former all-star caliber NBA veterans out in the cold, forcing some (Tracy McGrady, Gilbert Arenas) to seek work in China. Other others (Howard, Kenyon Martin, Michael Redd) have had to be exceedingly patient or ponder their futures as the league leans on younger and cheaper alternatives.
Rosters are set on NBA teams, meaning that a player would likely have to be injured or waived to create a spot for the 32-year-old Howard. He has been around long enough to understand the business of basketball and how the league works.
“I’m not mad about not being in the NBA right now because when I look back on my career, not too many guys that are in there right now can say they’ve done the things I’ve done,” he said. “I’m happy, but I want to get out there and keep playing because I have a lot to give.”
The Indiana Pacers will host the Wizards on Saturday and will be without all-star forward Danny Granger for the next three months as he recovers from an injection to repair tendinitis in his left patella. The Pacers (2-4) don’t appear to be in a rush to find a replacement, relying on Gerald Green and Lance Stevenson, but Howard, Mickael Pietrus and Quentin Richardson have been mentioned as possible candidates to fill in for Granger.
“I’ll be happy to play on any team that wants me. Indiana or anybody else, I’d be very appreciative to get there,” said Howard, a former high school teammate of Pacers forward David West at Hargrave Military Academy, which also produced Wizards guard Jordan Crawford. “I mean, I think ultimately, most guys care where they end up. I just want to be some place where guys come in, night in, night out and play hard. That’s ultimately how I want it. Of course, I’d like to be on a championship team if that can happen, but I’m going to give it my all, no matter what.”
Howard’s career has sputtered since suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in February 2010, only a week after the Wizards acquired him from the Dallas Mavericks in a deal involving Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson.
He played just 22 games in 1 1/2 seasons in Washington and averaged 8.7 points and 3.8 rebounds last season in Utah before a loose chip was discovered in the same knee last summer, requiring another surgery.
Howard said he has fully recovered after training in Los Angeles, Winston-Salem and Dallas. He drew interest from Brooklyn, Charlotte, Philadelphia, New York, San Antonio and Chicago last summer, but didn’t receive an offer.
“I’m back to normal, as far as my knee. I have no problem with it. I’m in here lifting weights just like I used to do in Washington, before my ACL tear,” Howard said. “I worked out with some teams before the season started and they told me I looked great. Just part of the salary cap and things of that nature.”
Howard hasn’t allowed himself to get too upset that he remains unemployed two weeks into the NBA season.
“I guess you can say, it’s frustration when you’re watching games, seeing that you can do stuff above and beyond what some guys are doing,” Howard said with a chuckle. “That’s just like my motivation when I come to this gym.”