It’s struck me as odd when recently, before being traded to Orlando, Gilbert Arenas deferred to Josh Howard as a more vocal leader on the Wizards than him. Yes, the same Josh Howard whose past record will almost cause more scoffs than Arenas’ … the same Josh Howard who has played all of five games in a Wizards uniform since arriving via trade back in February, compared to Arenas, who appeared in 357 total regular season games with the franchise since being signed to D.C. by Ernie Grunfeld in August of 2003.
After a home game against the New York Knicks on December 10, Arenas was asked about the then forthcoming return of Howard.
“It’s going to help more in the locker room and on the bench because, you know, he has a strong voice. You know, I usually don’t say anything, but he’s more of a vocal person. So when we have those lulls like we did in the third [against the Knicks], he’s going to speak up,” he said.
When I asked Howard about needing to fill the role of vocal leader after the Miami game on Saturday, he said, “It’s different for me. I mean, I haven’t did this in a long time as far as college, and I led by example in Dallas as far as my play on the court. As far as being vocal, I have to remind myself that I can speak.”
After getting past your digestion of Arenas’ claims that he usually doesn’t say anything, move on to the leadership conundrum. Back when Eddie Jordan was the Wizards’ coach, it seemed, and validly so, that he didn’t see Arenas as a team leader. Stories later mutated with one side saying he never wanted to be a leader and the other saying that a certain subject didn’t want to lead. Or vice versa. The story could never get itself straight.
Simply put, tossing aside the idea that Arenas didn’t so much lead this season because his heart was not in it, Arenas simply was not a leader. Never was, likely never will be. Now, that doesn’t mean that he hasn’t been a good, veteran influence at times in the past, doling out advice to young players who haven’t been where he’s been, or calling up guys like Nick Young for late-night shooting sessions. It just means that Arenas was not the type of soul most coaches would consider trustworthy.
It was what it was.
Now, with Kirk Hinrich more of a lead-by-example type, the leadership of Rashard Lewis touted by management remaining uncertain, and the yappy John Wall still being a rookie, Josh Howard steps in to assume the role of vocal leader for the Washington Wizards. This, of course, induces wide-ranging opinions and snarkiness regarding Howard’s leadership abilities from Dallas to D.C.
Howard’s past has been discussed plenty, and it’s not really productive to rehash it right now moving forward. Just know that he has a small margin for error, especially since he’s auditioning for a contract for the remainder of the season.
Howard has said all the right words while in Washington. Teammates have also lauded him with praise for his efforts while rehabbing his knee injury. But now it’s time to convert some of that cheap talk into basketball action.
Howard’s debut against the Heat on Saturday was a refreshing one. He scored 13 points on 5-9 shooting with four rebounds, an assist and a steal in 22 minutes off the bench. His energy and effort seemed to spread to his teammates, and he played his game like a lesson has been learned. Howard played like a man who wants to earn future money by making a team better, not by putting up good numbers on a crappy team.
A one-game sample (well, considering the four games Howard played for the Wizards last year too) is rather insignificant. No one knows if Howard is a potential future roster piece that will be part of the rebuilding, or if he’s a trade piece which will spark more rebuilding. All we do know is that game two of Howard’s 2010-11 campaign goes down tonight in Washington against the Charlotte Bobcats.
After Saturday’s game, Josh and some of his teammates — Nick Young, Hilton Armstrong and Kirk Hinrich — spoke about his return to the court.