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Howard ready for fresh start; AK47 Jazz era over

By Lynn Debruin

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Dec. 16 2011 2:08 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — A new chance for Josh Howard means the official end of Andrei Kirilenko's career with the Utah Jazz.

"My expectations are very high," Howard said Friday before boarding a flight to Salt Lake City. "I know I have to earn my minutes first and foremost. ... But what you'll see is the same Josh you seen in Dallas."

Well, not quite, the Jazz hope.

They hope he only brings his clothes along as baggage.

In 2008 with the Mavericks, Howard endured off-court issues that included a radio interview where he acknowledged occasionally smoking marijuana in the offseason. He also was arrested for drag racing and was caught in a video showing him being disrespectful during the playing of the national anthem.

"It's an opportunity for him to continue playing basketball, and that's what we talked about," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "You've got to learn from your mistakes and move on. You may not get another chance after this one, and I think he understands the magnitude of that."

Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor said the team did its homework on the 6-foot-7 Howard but acknowledged it is a risk-reward situation with the ninth-year pro. Howard received a one-year deal, reportedly valued at $3 million.

"I don't think you can ever assure yourself (Howard is reformed)," O'Connor said. "You try to do as much intelligence work as you can. What he's done since then is as important as what he's learned. Over the last couple of years he's been terrific."

Jazz point guard Devin Harris, who played his early days with Howard in Dallas, acknowledged lobbying Howard to sign with the Jazz early this summer.

"Josh is a good dude," said Harris, who has a squeaky clean image. "He's very truthful, a guy that believes in speaking his mind. Sometimes that doesn't always sit well with a lot of people, but he's a good teammate, comes and works hard and loves what he does."

Harris said Howard, who averaged 19.9 points in his prime, will add athleticism and fit in nicely with the up-tempo game the Jazz plan to play this year.

"He's probably one of the best first-quarter scorers I've ever seen in my life. He could give you 7-of-8, or 8-of-9 shooting in the first quarter and get you off to a great start," Harris said.

The Jazz certainly struggled in that area last season when they were forced to rally from large deficits early and fell behind in games often.

How soon Howard can help remains to be seen.

He said his left knee is sound 21 months after surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and following bouts of tendinitis last season in Washington.

He worked out for O'Connor in North Carolina on Tuesday but acknowledged he hasn't played much 3-on-3 or 5-on-5 to avoid the risk of further injury before signing.

That will change Saturday when the Jazz hold an intrasquad scrimmage, then practice Sunday before the first preseason game Monday in Portland. They open the season Dec. 27 at the Lakers.

"He's got to knock some of the rust off, and get himself in NBA shape," O'Connor said.

Howard, 31, will compete at small forward with C.J. Miles, Gordon Hayward and Jeremy Evans — a position Kirilenko occupied for 10 seasons. Kirilenko remains unsigned as a free agent and continues playing in Russia.

"Andrei is a great guy," Corbin said. "He has a great family. We miss him. He's done a lot of good things for this franchise. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like we have an opportunity to bring him back. But we appreciate all the things he brought to this Jazz team and this community. He was a great guy in the community as well. We wish him well in his endeavors."

Howard hopes he can be a positive role model after spending much time last season watching from the bench.

"It was a learning experience," Howard said. "It helped me grow as a person and as a leader. We had a lot of young guys ... and being in Dallas and the playoffs I was able to share a lot of knowledge."

The first thing Howard will learn in Utah is he'll have to lose the headband, a rule the Jazz had throughout the Jerry Sloan years.

"He used to wear a headband," Corbin quipped, noting the rule won't change.

On a serious note, Corbin is looking for Howard to be a difference-maker.

"He can play defense, score on the other end and we look forward to helping him get this group over the edge (in terms of) experience and playing at a high level," said Corbin, who has four players 21 or younger on his roster. "He's been to the NBA Finals and knows what that's all about. He's a hungry guy and wants to show this league he can still play."

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