By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 31, 2011; D05
DALLAS - It's been nearly 50 weeks since Josh Howard arrived in Washington but his desire to help elevate the Wizards and return to something close to his all-star form continues to be suspended by his balky left knee. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last season, had surgery, rehabilitated, came back to play a few games this season and returned to the sideline after developing more complications.
Though he had hoped to be back on the court and contributing when the Wizards faced the Dallas Mavericks for the first time since the teams made a blockbuster deal at the trade deadline last February, Howard has placed the situation in perspective. He is looking beyond a one-game opportunity to "stick it to the Mavs" in the arena he called home for 6Â½ seasons.
"It's the last thing I'm worried about right now," Howard said as the Wizards (13-33) attempt to snap their string of 24 consecutive road losses at American Airlines Center. "I've got to get my knee right, first and foremost."
Howard appeared in only 12 of the 78 games that the Wizards have played since they acquired him from Dallas in exchange for Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson. He suffered his terrible knee injury after leading the Wizards to three wins in their first four games after the trade, and enjoyed his brief time in Washington so much that he passed up suitors with playoff aspirations - such as Boston, Chicago and Miami - to return.
"I've seen a lot of talent on this team and I still see a lot of talent," Howard said, explaining why he came back. "Got young guys that want to win, still in the process of learning the game. Overall upside of guys that want to win and play hard. I see it in them. I know it's just a matter of time for good things to come."
Howard made his season debut on Dec. 18, the day Gilbert Arenas was traded, and nearly helped the Wizards pull off an upset of the Miami Heat. But after playing eight games, Howard said he had to shut himself down when tendinitis prohibited him from doing any squats without discomfort. Two weeks ago, Howard elected to have a platelet-rich plasma injection to help promote a healthier, more natural recovery process. He is expected to return some time in the next week or two.
"It's going to be nice to have him back," Coach Flip Saunders said. "He's vocal. He's got very good leadership, trying to help out our young players. I think it's really hurt us, that we haven't had a chance to try to get some consistency with him because of that. It's funny, because he'd like to even do more. But when you're not playing, you can only say so much."
John Wall said Howard's presence has been helpful. "He still is a leader on this team, a guy everybody looks up to, and we just got to do what he say," he said. "Josh gives us a lot of advice. He's probably one of the main ones that's talking on the sidelines or when we're in the huddle. He says, 'No matter if you're up or if you're down, you've got to go hard, every minute, every second you're out there.' When we're not doing that, you see the results in the game."
Howard is in his eighth season, but he is also learning to adjust to this situation, since he made the playoffs in each of his first six seasons in Dallas. "It's my first time being in a situation like this, as far as losing," Howard said. "I got to keep myself motivated as much as possible. You've just got to find a way deep down inside to stay positive. Even with the games I played in, I've seen a response, but it's tough on me knowing that I can't be out there the whole time. We've just got to find a way and that's it."
Howard made an all-star appearance and reached the NBA Finals with the Mavericks, but his production and reputation declined the past few seasons. His name had been mentioned in trade rumors all last season, so when he finally was moved, Howard said, "It was a sense of relief."
"A lot of people get shipped out of there in two years. To be able to stick around as long as I did and do the things I did for that city, speaks a lot. But time has moved on. I've been a Wizard for a year and a half, and it feels great. I hope I can continue to this career here. If not, try somewhere else."
The Mavericks (31-15) remain one of the elite teams in the Western Conference, despite Butler suffering a season-ending knee injury earlier this month. "I've been paying attention to them. It's like the same thing when I was there," Howard said. "There is really no animosity toward any of those guys, it's a business out here. All I can do is move forward and wish them the best."
For Howard, his return to Dallas will be special because it will afford him another chance to spend time with his 2-year-old son, Bryson, who usually visits him once a month in Washington.
Howard has been back to American Airlines Center since the trade, as he attended Game 5 of the Mavericks' first-round series against San Antonio and traveled with the Wizards for their preseason opener in Dallas last October (an exhibition road game that they actually won).
He still runs a basketball camp in Dallas and said his plan is to reside in the area after he retires. "Most likely, if all things work out like I want to, yeah," Howard said. "Opportunity is best for me there, with the family and myself. A great place to raise a family. Great place to live. I love the city of Dallas."