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Juwan Howard: A reluctant -- but respectful -- Wolf

  • Article by: Jerry Zgoda
  • Star Tribune
  • September 28, 2007 - 9:13 PM

New Timberwolves forward Al Jefferson on Friday fondly remembered watching present teammate Juwan Howard play for the University of Michigan when Jefferson was just a "little boy."

That age disparity on a remade franchise that now features eight players 25 years old or younger as well as the 34-year-old, 13-year NBA veteran left Howard a reluctant Timberwolf when players reported for Friday's media day and today's first training-camp practice.

Nearly a teammate of Kevin Garnett's four years ago, Howard finally become one in June -- for about six weeks -- after a trade with Houston. A mammoth swap that sent Garnett to Boston for five players and two draft picks in late July left Howard "sad" and "disappointed" and led him to ask the Timberwolves for a trade to a select handful of teams where he could possibly, finally win an NBA title.

On Friday, Howard wore a Wolves uniform for the first time and respectfully declared his intentions the same.

"I'm like Kevin," Howard said. "He wanted to win a title before he is done playing, and I feel the same way. But now to come to a young team that's building for the future."

The way Howard calculates it, the Timberwolves are two to four years away from being a playoff factor.

"I'm just being honest here," he said. "Do I have that left in my career. Four years? No, I don't think so. I would love an opportunity to play for a contender. I know if I were 27 or 30 years old, this situation wouldn't be bad at all because this is a young, talented group of players that has a chance to be special. And I mean that."

Howard said he took his request privately to Timberwolves vice president of basketball operations Kevin McHale and owner Glen Taylor and did not voice it publicly. McHale concluded he couldn't strike a fair deal with the short list of teams Howard provided, a decision that made its way to the media.

"Now I know at times that sounds selfish when you hear it from athletes," said Howard, who has played for six other teams in his NBA career and never has approached an NBA championship. "I'm not trying to be selfish at all. I'm not trying to create a distraction to this team. I respected this franchise and I respected my teammates. That's why I tried to do things behind the scenes.

"I've always told the organization that it's a compliment they're paying me, saying they want me to be here to teach the young guys how to be a pro. Kevin McHale and Glen Taylor, they understood what I asked, the reason why. I'm here today as a Minnesota Timberwolf. If I continue to play throughout the season as a Minnesota Timberwolf, I will respect that decision by Mr. Taylor and Kevin McHale."

McHale said he is willing to fulfill Howard's request, if he can strike the right trade. He said Howard's short list of teams complicates the situation.

"He doesn't really want to go to just any team," McHale said. "I had a long talk with Juwan and I told him, 'I understand where you're coming from.' Your career is a finite thing. And when it's over, you can't go back and re-do it. ... But it's got to be a deal that fits what we're trying to accomplish. If that handful of teams can come up with what we need, we'll try to get something done."

For now, McHale said he expects Howard to play well and play hard for his new team, which could use both his low-post game and his veteran presence.

"Juwan is a real consummate professional," McHale said. "Very intelligent. Very articulate. A very good guy."

Howard nearly signed as a free agent with the Timberwolves in 2003 -- "very close," he said -- but chose Orlando after he couldn't reach Garnett to learn whether the soon-to-be MVP planned to stay in Minnesota.

"I wanted to be sure he was going to re-sign," said Howard, a 6-9 power forward. "I wanted to play with him."

The Magic traded Howard to Houston a year later. After three seasons there, Howard was traded by the Rockets to the Wolves in June for guard Mike James. At the time, Howard considered it the fulfillment of a long-standing wish. Instead, the trade places him in a similar situation to nearly two seasons spent in Denver more than five years ago, when the Nuggets' roster included seven rookies.

"I've played this role before," said Howard, who played in the NCAA title game his first two collegiate seasons with Michigan's "Fab Five" but never won a championship there. "Who's going to be able to take that pressure. Who's going to be able to stand up after you've lost by 20 points the night before and you're on a three-game losing streak? Are you still going to come out and compete and stay positive and not point the finger, thinking it's that guy's fault or this guy's fault? It's not an easy process. It's a challenging process."

Jerry Zgoda •

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