The return of Josh Howard is unexpected, surprising and baffling. It’s also smart. And it’s the topping on a dessert of questions … I’ll get to that in a bit. First, let’s go through some reasons why it’s an agreeable move, without protest.
First, Howard comes relatively cheap — $4 million for a year with incentives, as reported by the Washington Post’s Michael Lee. He’s a player with the potential to show above average skill in a wide range of categories. In 2006-07 he had a PER of 20.0 and the tenth lowest turnover percentage in the NBA.
Second, he needs to get his knee healthy. The team doesn’t expect him to be ready by the start of the season. Howard’s camp says he’ll be full speed in October and that he is “ahead of schedule” — of course, Howard has been saying that he’s ahead of schedule since before last season was over (Good to know he’s still on track). Nevertheless, the knee, in a sense, was a blessing … selfishly for the Wizards.
Sure, it was essentially inevitable that the team would decline to pick up Howard’s $11.8 million option for 2010-11. But was it inevitable that he would re-sign with the same team for $7.8 million less (minus incentives)? Maybe, maybe not. In speaking with him before the end of last season, it was clear Howard understood that his option would not be picked up and that he’d be willing to come back to the Wizards. Still, that’s a lot of change to swallow and to re-sign for just a single season with the team that just forced you to chew.
Perhaps Howard felt the Wizards wanted him, as he said after the trade that brought him to D.C., and thus decided the best course of action is to stay put for a bit — to follow through with loyalty to the team that acquired him and to stick it to the team that traded him away. OR, maybe offers from the Bulls, Celtics and Cavaliers, franchises reportedly interested in Howard, just weren’t up to monetary snuff heading into a potential lockout.
Third, Howard’s return unseats Al Thornton as ‘the’ incumbent at small forward. (Although yes, because of the aforementioned injury, it is possible that a healthy Thornton begins the season as the starter.)
Now there are two leading candidates running for the open seat. And let’s be honest, were Wizards fans really comfortable with Al Thornton as the incumbent? Sure, people were getting pumped to see Al run the floor with John Wall and grab some rebounds (an area on this Wizards team where big contributions will be needed from the small forward position).
Josh Howard can also run the floor, his 2003 pre-draft 3.09 in the sprint is faster than Thornton’s 3.16 in 2007. And he can rebound better — a career 6.9 per 36 minutes versus Thornton’s 5.3 boards per 36. Howard also has a career rebounding-percentage of 11.0, Thornton’s is 8.6-percent. [REB% - is the estimate of the percentage of available rebounds a player grabs while he's on the floor.]
Want better long distance shooting to go with Wall? Howard is a career 33.9-percent shooter from long distance, averaging 0.8 makes per 36 minutes. Thornton is a career 30.8-percent long range shooter, averaging 0.4 makes per 36 minutes.
From the 16-23 foot range, Thornton shot 35-percent his rookie year, 36-percent as a soph, 34-percent as a Clipper last season, and 39-percent as a Wizard. From the same range, Howard shot 39-percent in both 2006-07 and 2007-08, 43-percent in 2008-09, 33-percent with the Mavericks last season, and 54-percent in four games with the Wizard. Hopefully Howard’s overall bad ’09-10 numbers in Dallas are an anomaly, partially affected by his recovery from a lingering ankle injury … and assuming that his knee returns to full health, also allowing more time for the ankle to fully heal.
Probably most worth mentioning is that Howard is a better defender than Al Thornton. Hands down. I won’t even justify with statistics. Actually …. I’ve seen people brag about Thornton’s 7’1″ wingspan on his 6’5.75″ frame. Howard has a 7’2″ wingspan with 6’5.25″ of height. (Both heights without shoes, measurements via DraftExpress.)
And now I feel like I’ve wasted a lot of words telling you something you already knew … that Josh Howard is better than Al Thornton.
Now here’s the bad part … potentially.
Remember last year and how crappy it was? Many of the Wizards, according some I’ve spoken with and in other reports I’ve read, found comfort in shifting the blame to the general area of, “we had a lot of free agents” … aka guys were looking out for themselves (and this was the main excuse for how bad the Wizards were pre-Gilbert’s gun gaffe). Ironic that some of this sentiment came from the free agents themselves (and that most of the problem children weren’t free-agents) … but that’s neither here nor there at this point, I suppose.
The whole “pending free-agency” agenda is a curious fine line. Some smart players know they must excel within the system to ultimately make ends meet. Some say screw it and jack shots/do their own thing. Question is — is there a difference between when the agenda comes up on a team with expectations (last year) versus a team with none (this year)?
Because now, with one-year contracts handed out to Hilton Armstrong and Josh Howard (so far), the impending free-agent total is brought to five — this is carrying the assumption that Al Thornton, Nick Young and Yi Jianlian are essentially playing for contracts since they are approaching the qualifying offer year of their rookie contracts. Worth mentioning that all of the guys fighting for another contract this year are also essentially fighting for their NBA lives (somewhat unlike last season’s Wizards). Then again, if Darko can still get a contract …
There are essentially no expectations of the 2010-11 Wizards, which clearly should be the preference amongst followers of the team. However, if for some reason issues arise and aspects sour … in a Flip Saunders: “Don’t think things can get worse because they can.” mold … don’t go completely blaming all these supposed free-agents. The coaching staff and team management might not get as many courtesies extended from ownership. But enough with all the speculative negative talk …
With Howard the Wizards just got a whole lot deeper. They are somewhere between slightly and significantly more relevant among the lower tier of the Eastern Conference (teams not named the Heat, Bulls, Magic, Celtics, Bucks or Hawks … that’s not saying much, is it?). They have both youthful and non-committed talent. The Wizards are going to be fun to watch.
“Here’s hoping Josh is willing to go back to being the little things guy w/ Wall in town,” said Mike Prada of SB Nation DC on Twitter shortly after news of Howard’s signing hit the interwebs. My sentiments exactly, no protests.