Josh Howard didn’t need to seek confirmation, do a Google search or check driver’s licenses when he participated in Chris Paul’s celebrity all-star game nearly two weeks ago in Winston-Salem, N.C. All he needed to do was watch John Wall, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant and the other stars flying around the court, running and dunking with abandon, to realize that he was “the oldest guy out there.”
“I had to show the guys I still could dunk,” Howard said with a laugh, while admitting that Wall stole the show. “I forgot that boy could jump like that, good gracious.”
But for Howard, the dunk signified much more, because it was also evidence of the progress he has made since tendinitis in his surgically-repaired left knee forced him to finally shut down a stop-and-go campaign last season with the Wizards.
Howard had a platelet rich plasma treatment to stimulate a more natural healing process in the knee ligament that had never fully healed after he ruptured in his fourth game after arriving in a deadline deal with the Dallas Mavericks in 2010. The procedure helped Howard with his recovery and he was excited to be back in a competitive setting after rehabilitating in Dallas and North Carolina this offseason.
“Being able to work out the way I did before, it helped a lot. I was glad that I went and did it,” said Howard, who had a similar treatment in his ankle, which produced similar results.
He played some pickup games and hosted a charity game in Dallas, but felt more encouraged after running the floor with Paul, Wall and the other stars. “It feels real good, just getting back acclimated to the game, getting up and down and knowing my spots, it’s fun figuring that stuff out again, but overall, it’s just great being out there and being 100 percent,” he said.
Howard will be back on the free agent market whenever the league and the union reach a settlement on a new collective bargaining agreement. He is unsure if Washington will bring him back after he averaged career lows of 8.4 points and 4.1 rebounds in just 18 games last season. The Wizards drafted small forward Chris Singleton in the first round last June.
He turned down offers from more veteran, playoff-ready teams — such as Boston — to sign a one-year, incentive-laden deal to return to the Wizards, but said he would weigh all of his options this time around. “I’ve thought about my legacy and what I want people to remember me as,” Howard said, adding that joining a team better prepared to win might be more attractive. “I think anybody at this stage in their career would think that. To be honest, I see my future anywhere. I’m one of those guys who would just be happy to play for whatever team would give me the opportunity to go out there and do the things I’ve proven I’m able to do.”
Howard is perhaps more desirous to join a winning situation after watching his former team win the NBA title over the Miami Heat five months ago. He still has a home in Dallas and was happy to see some of his former teammates get the ring that they were unable to grab in 2006. “I saw Jason Terry a few weeks ago and they was still celebrating, so it was fun seeing those guys,” he said.
Howard will be in Chatham, Va., on Thursday as he and David West will both have their jerseys retired by Hargrave Military Academy, the school that has also produced Wizards guard Jordan Crawford and Philadelphia center Marreese Speights. Howard and West led Hargrave to a 27-3 record in their lone season at the school. Howard said he wore No. 42 because “I was a [Jerry] Stackhouse fan then.”
“I consider that a major piece of me growing up, as far as me transitioning on the court and off the court as a person. I learned a lot in those six, seven months I was there, so for them to give me the opportunity to have my jersey retired means a lot,” Howard said. “I was 17 when I got dropped off and just having to learn how to fend on your own, learning the military rules, taught you a lot about organization, about self discipline and lot about yourself, to see if you can handle pressure. There was a lot of pressure up there, but it was for good.”
Howard likely wouldn’t have the opportunity to attend the ceremony if not for the lockout. Though he would prefer to be in training camp somewhere right now, Howard has taken advantage of his time. “It’s allowed me time to be with my family, which is good and bad, because I’m with my family but not allowed to work the way I want to. But I hope both sides will get something done,” Howard said.
So that he can continue to show how far he has come.