There's mutual interest between Howard and Utah. He exceeded expectations during the 2011-12 campaign, is highly respected by management and coach Tyrone Corbin, and Howard spent part of his offseason working out with former Jazz teammates in Santa Barbara, Calif.
The chances of him re-signing with the Jazz have only become slimmer during the last few weeks, though. Utah is stacked at small forward with Gordon Hayward, Marvin Williams, DeMarre Carroll and Jeremy Evans expected to compete for time at the position. And the Jazz signed 2012 second-round pick Kevin Murphy on Friday, which brought Utah's roster to 15 players the maximum allowed by the NBA once the regular season begins.
The Raja problem
Further complicating the process: Raja Bell's unresolved contract buyout.
With just two weeks remaining before the start of training camp for the 2012-13 season, the veteran guard is still on Utah's roster.
Jazz General Manager Dennis Lindsey has said several times he won't comment on Bell's lingering situation. Herb Ruody, Bell's agent, last week denied reports his client has refused to accept a buyout proposal that's been on the table since at least July.
The Jazz have long believed Bell's buyout would take care of itself. The veteran guard believes he was underutilized in Utah; he feels strongly he can still play several seasons in the NBA; and he has no desire to continue his career in Salt Lake City. As a result, the Jazz finally accepted the situation as unwinnable, agreeing late during the 2011-12 season it was best for both sides to part ways.
For the last two months, several agents with clients interested in signing with Utah have wondered why it's taken the Jazz so long to buy out Bell. The question continues to be asked, with training camp approaching and Utah unable to sign another player until Bell officially moves on.
Bell's frustration with Utah stretches back to the early part of the 2010-11 season, when Deron Williams was still the small-market franchise's star player and Jerry Sloan was the coach.
Bell's situation with the Jazz only worsened during the 2011-12 campaign. Despite being Utah's main free-agent signing in the summer of 2010 and serving as the team's starting shooting guard for two seasons, his playing time was limited, his role in the offense was often relegated to random 3-pointers, and he regularly clashed with Corbin.
Bell could have been traded at various points last season, and a private meeting in February between the 12-year veteran and Jazz management was supposed to mark a clean slate. Instead, Bell is still on Utah's roster, and the divided sides have been unable to resolve what should have been a simple buyout for the final year of the guard's $3.5 million contract.
At least two months after the proposed buyout was first offered, it's still on the table. Now, about $1 million, Bell's ability to sign with a new team and the normal politics of contract negotiations have created an un-Jazz like situation in which Bell who had a heated face-to-face argument with Corbin in March after a loss at Philadelphia is technically still part of Utah's 2012-13 team.
Bell has at times come close to accepting Utah's buyout and signing with another NBA team, and he's been linked to everyone from the Miami Heat to the Los Angeles Lakers.
But he's somehow still part of the Jazz. And a slightly rebuilt Utah squad one that will again rely on depth as it attempts to compete with stronger and more talented teams in the Western Conference temporarily has its hands tied by a player whose frustrations with the franchise began nearly two years ago.