The road back always starts somewhere, and for newly signed Timberwolves swingman Josh Howard that path toward recalling the player he once was begins with ...
Something as simple as a headband?
"Yeah," he said about wearing a white one during his Wolves debut Friday against Golden State. "I felt like my old self."
Howard played in Utah last season with a Jazz team that forbids wearing such a thing.
Wolves coach Rick Adelman has no such policy. So while Howard quickly acclimates himself to new teammates, new system and a new city, he has found at least a little comfort and familiarity in an old friend -- his signature look while playing in Dallas and Washington.
"Not saying that I didn't feel like my old self in Utah, but that was part of my repertoire," said Howard, who wore a headband the season he was selected for the 2008 NBA All-Star Game.
"That was me. It felt good to put it back on."
Howard played mostly on instincts and adrenaline in his Wolves debut, a 14-minute, 10-shot, six-point, two-rebound, two-steal performance Friday. It included some time at shooting guard because his team was down to only three guards, after signing him and waiving Will Conroy.
He has had three practice days since then to improve his conditioning and learn plays that differ under Adelman's system mostly in name only from those he ran for Don Nelson, Avery Johnson, Flip Saunders and Ty Corbin in his first nine NBA seasons.
"I've been in three different systems already," he said. "It's kind of like erasing things and starting over. For the most part, it's easy."
He is back in the NBA after the season started without him, trying to prove there's still some game in those 32-year-old legs.
He's also trying to show he's not the person who created controversy in 2008 when he admitted on a radio show that he smoked marijuana, got arrested for drag racing his Lexus against a Volkswagen and was caught on cell phone video disparaging the national anthem.
"I did what I was supposed to do as far as cleaning up my image and doing the things to make myself better," he said.
Howard's presence gives the Wolves a needed natural scorer on a team that signed him after Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic Chase Budinger, J.J. Barea and Brandon Roy all went down injured.
Pekovic is expected to return for Wednesday's game against Denver at Target Center. Barea likely will, too.
Howard has prepared to back up Andrei Kirilenko at small forward and help out at shooting guard. On Friday, Howard, a natural small forward, became an honorary guard to supplement a group that was down to just Luke Ridnour, Malcolm Lee and Alexey Shved.
"I'm kind of a guard/forward anyway," Howard said. "So I'm just refreshing my memory on those guard things."
Either way, Adelman said Howard fits in a system where the shooting guard and small forward are basically interchangeable offensively.
Place him at shooting guard alongside Kirilenko at small forward and Howard perhaps can improve, with his length and experience, a defense that was pretty good until Pekovic sprained his ankle last week at Dallas.
It also gives the Wolves two veterans who have played a combined 21 NBA seasons now. And each has played in an All-Star Game.
"He's a veteran," Ridnour said. "He has been around. He has played in a lot of different systems, and he caught on quick. He's going to help us. His energy is high. He can really space the floor. He understands how to play. In '07, he was an All-Star, so he's a good player."
Just a week ago, Howard was a free agent sitting at home in Dallas, working out by himself because he found no competition in open-gym pickup games and waiting for another, perhaps final, NBA chance.
It arrived when the Wolves called.
"It's bound to happen to every player and it was just my time," Howard said about watching an NBA season that started without him. "The good thing about me is I'm not a quitter. I'm going to keep fighting until I know it's time for me to stop and I wasn't ready to give up. You know you're finished when you sign those papers saying you're retired, and I never did that."