Josh Howard has barely played over the last two seasons after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in February 2010. Howard is almost 31, nearly five years removed from his first and only All-Star appearance, when he looked to be on the verge of becoming one of the NBA’s elite, all-around wing players. Fans who weren’t paying attention then might know Howard less for his game than for his comments about smoking marijuana or the controversy over his being filmed disrespecting the national anthem at a charity flag football game.
But Howard is trying to revive his career now after playing only 18 games with the Wizards last season. The Jazz, who agreed to a deal with Howard after watching a private workout, believe he can bolster a shaky wing rotation that includes C.J. Miles, Gordon Hayward, Raja Bell and rookie Alec Burks.
Howard spoke with SI.com on Friday about the free-agency process, his knee and why he chose Utah.
SI.com: When did the Jazz first contact you, and what was your first reaction when you heard from them?
Howard: They first contacted me at the start of last week. My first reaction was that I was thinking that Devin Harris, from back in Dallas, probably said something to them. I didn’t really know what to expect. I was excited for another team to want me and for them to stay in the hunt this long made me feel better. I just had to weigh my options.
SI.com: At the end of free agency, what options — either verbal on paper — did you have in front of you?
Howard: It was San Antonio, Utah and [some interest from] New York at the end.
SI.com: Why Utah?
Howard: It was really looking back at my years playing in the NBA and coming to Utah, and seeing that home-court advantage they had, as far as the fans coming out and supporting them nonstop. And I know guys here will play hard 24-7. To top it all off, Devin Harris is here, and he’s in a contract year, so you know he’s going to give it his all. [Editor's note: Harris has two years left on his contract.] I also know Al Jefferson pretty well and I’m excited to play with him.
SI.com: You worked out for Kevin O’Connor, Utah’s GM. What did you do? What did he want to see from you?
Howard: I just did what I’ve been doing since the lockout was going on — my individual workout. I showed them my single-leg jump on my left knee — the one I had the ACL surgery on — and I showed them I still have my mobility. I did a lot of full-court stuff, so they could see I’m back.
SI.com: Were there any other players there for you to play one-on-one against or something?
Howard: No, just me, Mr. O’Connor and my trainer.
SI.com: So how is the knee? How are you feeling?
Howard: I feel as good as I’ve felt in long time. It has been more than a year and a half now since the surgery and recovery. I need to get some five-on-five games, and get my basketball legs under me.
SI.com: How close are you with Devin Harris? It sounds like his presence in Utah was a big factor for you.
Howard: We’re close. We both still stay in Dallas during the offseason. I go to his camps over the summer, and he goes to mine. Me and his brother are very close as well. We have kept in touch throughout the years. We were two young guys coming into the league in Dallas, and now we’re two vets leaning on each other.
SI.com: Why not the Spurs? They are a contender, and they have a possible opening at small forward if they use the amnesty provision on Richard Jefferson. Did you have a direct conversation with them about whether they would do that if you signed?
Howard: It was ultimately about Utah and the right fit. San Antonio is a great organization and had me come in for a workout as well.
SI.com: Was the workout with the Spurs just like the one in Utah, a private thing for Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford?
Howard: I didn’t have a workout for them like I had with Mr. O’Connor. [The Spurs] wanted to see my single-leg jump, and they took my measurements, but that’s it.
SI.com: What about the Knicks? You mentioned them. Did you work out for Mike D’Antoni?
Howard: No. I just got a phone call from Carmelo Anthony at first, and I really do appreciate that, and I let him know that. For him to reach out to try to get me there was another testament to how people feel about me.
SI.com: Was Carmelo the only person with the Knicks you heard from directly?
Howard: Yes, sir.
SI.com: Utah has some young guys on the wing in Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks and even C.J. Miles. You’ll have some competition for minutes, huh?
Howard: Ultimately, my goal is just to earn playing time, and to play my game the way I always have — intense, hard-nosed defense and scoring when I can. I’m going to push those guys like I know they are going to push me. How the coaches use us, we’re just going to have to roll with it.
SI.com: What new wrinkle to your game should we expect to see?
Howard: I’m just going to have to start using a little more brain power now. I’m older, and you see the game a little bit easier now after all the battles you’ve been in.