Utah Jazz: A reformed Howard hoping to do all the right things

Published: Saturday, Dec. 17 2011 11:18 p.m. MST

Josh Howard leaves the court after the Jazz open exhibition game at the Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City Saturday, Dec. 17, 2011.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Josh Howard — the new No. 8 in town — didn't quote Mother Teresa, Hot Rod Hundley or John Stockton.

Other than that, the Utah Jazz's most recent addition said all the right things during an introductory 10-minute interview session Saturday morning — a continuation of conversation points certainly discussed with team management.

"I'm just fortunate enough that Utah gave me the opportunity to come out here," Howard said after meeting with the Jazz for the first time. "And I'm going to give it all I got."

If the affable and engaging All-Star is as good on the court for the Jazz as he was with the media, his smile and style should make Howard a fan-favorite before you can rattle off the list of unsavory incidents most people associate with him.

Howard got himself into hot water over the years for admitting to using marijuana, disrespecting the national anthem, drag racing, among other things. That, he insists, is not who he is anymore.

"I learned from my mistakes," Howard said. "I had to put that behind me and learn from it."

And here he is.

Happy to embrace a fresh start in Utah, the 31-year-old sounds like a reformed man and a very Jazz-like player.

For one important thing, Howard loves Jazz fans' support and the advantage they give their home team.

The small forward admires how the organization always seems to have hard-working guys. He looks forward to playing for Tyrone Corbin, whom he considers "very laid back" and knowledgeable.

His surgically repaired and tendinitis-hampered knee is 100 percent healthy, even though his fitness level is not 100 percent NBA-ready.

He's perfectly fine with the Jazz's headband ban, saying with a smile, "It's cool. It's time for a change."

He considers himself a leader and cherished mentoring youth and tutoring young Wizards players (including John Wall) in Washington, D.C.

He's turned to God to help him get through tough times and make tough decisions, including choosing to play in Utah on a one-year contract.

"I prayed about it," he said of picking the Jazz over the Spurs, Wizards and other NBA opportunities, "and I think this is the best choice for me."

Howard points to his devastating ACL tear in March of 2010 as a watershed moment.

"Having the first major injury put a lot of things into perspective," Howard said. His realization? "How the game could be gone so fast at the blink of an eye."

The combination of praying, soul-searching, leaning on family and reaching out to help kids helped him refocus and reform.

Now the eight-year veteran doesn't want to simply resurrect his NBA career — a brilliant one for several years in Dallas — but he hopes to make basketball his life. Once an athletic scorer, he's only played 18 games in the past 21 months, so his legs are fresh. But he's also eyeing a long-term hoops career.

Staying out of trouble is in his best interest.

"I feel like I can give a lot to this game (for) however many years," he said, "(either) on the court or off the court in the front office somewhere."

In the more immediate future, Howard said he must get in "basketball shape." Getting back to being a strong defender will be challenging, he admitted, but Howard is familiar with the Jazz offensive system so he's confident he'll be able to contribute to the team soon and make the most of his second chance.

"I just have to go out there and do it, be determined to do it," he said.

Other things Howard shared about himself:

Howard prefers No. 5, but his buddy Devin Harris already had that, so he picked a number that hadn't had an owner for 10 months: No. 8 (yep, Deron Williams' old number).

Speaking of Harris, he was appreciative that his Dallas teammate from 2004-08 vouched for him with Jazz management. "He knows the real Josh Howard," he said. On Friday, the respected point guard called Howard "a good dude."

Howard kept a shoe he wore from his 47-point game against the Jazz (Dec. 8, 2007). It meant that much for him to go off while being guarded by Matt Harpring and Andrei Kirilenko. "They beat me up pretty good," he said. He took pride in notching that offensive achievement "against a Utah team that prides itself on defense."

He's a classic car collector. Two current projects — a 1967 Lincoln and a '64 Impala — should be refurbished by season's end.

He knows his fellow small forwards and believes "the sky's the limit for both of those guys." While with the Mavericks, he watched Dallas native C.J. Miles play in high school and thought he was a "great kid." He was also impressed watching Gordon Hayward play NCAA ball with Butler.

Email: jody@desnews.com

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