Monday, September 22, 2008

Express News: A Spurs mistake from the other side

A Spurs mistake from the other side
Buck Harvey

The Spurs missed on Josh Howard. His opinion of “The Star-Spangled Banner” doesn't change that.

The Spurs should have drafted him in 2003. The only issue would have been how the Spurs would have eventually fit him into their payroll, but they would have found a way.

He's too good. They would be better now — and maybe favorites — if they had him.

But as Howard acts less mature with every word he utters, there's reason to wonder if he was the real loser of that draft-day decision. Had he been with the Spurs all these years, he would have won championships; he might have helped the team win another, too, in 2006.

He also would have hung around with another Wake Forest alum, and he would have plugged into an attitude that believes boring news is good news. This is where Howard's image and life would have detoured.

Had he been with the Spurs all these years, would he be known for anything except winning?

Today he's known for being Cheech and wrong. Last spring, during the playoffs, Howard chose to talk about marijuana use on the radio. During that same series he went against Avery Johnson's directive and had more fun; he threw himself a party.

Then came some street racing, which will send him to a North Carolina court this week. And now comes his infamous opinion of the national anthem.

The oh-say-can-YouTube clip: Howard said he doesn't “celebrate this (bleep). I'm black.”

He will hear about this next season. Then he will earn about $10 million, and he will stand 82 times for “this bleep.”

Who knows? Maybe Mark Cuban is right. Talking to a cell-phone camera just before an Allen Iverson event, Howard could have simply been caught in a careless, flippant moment.

Either way, intent doesn't matter much, no matter how much Cuban tries to divert attention and place it on racist e-mailers. Howard, by any measure, has been a fool.

Howard showed a hint of this in college. According to reports, marijuana rumors hurt his draft status. But the Spurs didn't pass on him because of this. They were less impressed with him than they were other prospects, and besides, they were going after Jason Kidd at the time and wanted the cap room.

The Spurs traded out of the first round, and the Mavericks responded by taking Howard with the very next pick. Howard proved the Spurs were wrong from the tip.

He was a quiet workman, content to take what Dirk Nowitzki didn't want. Able to rebound in a small lineup, able to defend and score and run, Howard would have been perfect with the Spurs.

But they would have been perfect for him, too. And this goes back to Tim Duncan and the culture of his locker room.

When Kurt Thomas arrived last spring, he looked around and thought he had been traded to a Rotary Club. He laughed and told friends the Spurs were unlike any team he had been on.

Thomas also liked them for this very reason. Thomas re-signed, in part, because he enjoys a smart and professional locker room.

This environment can't change everyone. The Spurs, for example, didn't alter even one of Dennis Rodman's brain cells.

They aren't miracle workers, and they know it. They opted not to try to trade for Ron Artest, for example, because they saw him as too far over the edge. The Spurs' success in creating a roster of grown-ups is mostly about signing grown-ups.

Still, the Spurs have always felt a player can be influenced by teammates, and history says that has happened at times. Stephen Jackson wasn't shooting revolvers in strip-club parking lots when he was in San Antonio.

Howard, in comparison, would have been a minor tweak. He instead would have been a rookie surrounded by veterans, and he would have improved as Tony Parker did. He would have adapted to some standards, and he would have understood the basic Duncan premise.

The less you have to say, the better.

Howard likely would have thrived, and he would have won. And when asked to comment on the radio or by cell phone this past year, five years of training would have kicked in.

Wake guys don't say anything crazy, do they?

One of your typical think-harder-than-you-need-to articles from Buck. Sometimes this guy can really nail it; this doesn't seem to be one of those times. We need the season to start already.

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