NBA • Free agent with checkered past to fight for playing time at SF.
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The Jazz are hoping Josh Howard has been redeemed.
Utah signed the free agent small forward Thursday, The Salt Lake Tribune learned. Utah General Manager Kevin O'Connor said Howard agreed to a one-year deal.
"The risk is limited but the potential for reward is enormous," O'Connor said.
Howard will compete with Gordon Hayward and C.J. Miles for playing time at the 3. The Wake Forest product joins veteran Earl Watson as the team's main free-agent signings.
By adding the 31-year-old Howard, it is almost certain Utah won't re-sign unrestricted free agent Andrei Kirilenko, who is reportedly seeking $9 million per year for three seasons.
The Jazz's roster is set at 18 players with 11 days remaining before the organization tips off its 2011-12 season Dec. 27 at the Los Angeles Lakers.
Howard, an eight-year veteran, has seen his once-promising career tail off during the last two seasons, and he played in just 18 games for Washington in 2010-11. He was a key asset for Dallas from 2003-10, though, and has averaged 15.1 points and 5.9 rebounds during 453 games.
"He rebounds his position just about as well as any small forward for rebounds-per-minute," O'Connor said. "He's played on teams that have won and won consistently and been to the Finals and averaged double-figures in the Finals."
O'Connor added: "It gives us an opportunity to get a mid-range shooter and a slasher that maybe we haven't had in the past."
The 6-foot-7, 210-pound Howard was reportedly pursued by San Antonio, Chicago, Washington, New Jersey and Denver during free agency.
Utah entered the market looking to upgrade at the 3. The Jazz met with Howard on Tuesday after negotiating with him for several days.
Howard's camp said last Saturday he received a "firm offer" from the Jazz. O'Connor denied the assertion a few hours later.
"I haven't made an official offer, no," O'Connor said. "That's incorrect. Have we talked about stuff? Yeah."
Howard will now rejoin former Mavericks teammate Devin Harris, Utah's starting point guard. The duo were part of Dallas' 2006 team that lost 4-2 to Miami in the Finals.
Howard's addition creates immediate issues. The Jazz had weighed the positives of adding Howard versus the desire to get more playing time for Hayward and Miles. While either can slide down to shooting guard, it's now more unlikely both will start for the Jazz at the 2 and 3. In addition, Raja Bell and Alec Burks could see their playing time cut if either Hayward or Miles pick up minutes at shooting guard, while Jeremy Evans and even power forward Paul Millsap could be affected by Howard's signing.
"Everyone thought Dallas had too many people last year and they won the NBA Championship," O'Connor said.
The GM added Utah is doing two things at once during a lockout-shortened 66-game season: trying to win games now while developing its young talent for the future.
"Give the Miller family credit," O'Connor said. "We said, 'Look: Here's what we're attempting to do. We're attempting to develop the young kids and still win.' And sometimes that's a little tougher deal. But I think this season is going to dictate that that's a necessity."
O'Connor believes depth will be a major key as teams deal with everything from chaotic travel to a lack of practice time.
"You play six games in eight days," O'Connor said. "So, you're going to get deeper into benches and ... we're not saying, 'OK, we're going to play the young kids irregardless.' They've got to earn it. And if they earn it, then it's great. If they don't, then they're not going to play as much."
The small-market Jazz have added two veterans Howard and Jamaal Tinsley once shadowed by character problems in the last five days. Tinsley isn't guaranteed to make the roster, though.
O'Connor acknowledged Howard's past character issues. The GM said Utah completed a strong background check before the signing.
Howard reportedly missed a 2010 Dallas game due to a hangover and acknowledged smoking marijuana during a 2008 interview. He's been arrested for street racing, and once said he didn't celebrate the national anthem because he's black.
"There are some things in his background that he regrets and we talked about those things, too, and what he learned from them," O'Connor said. "We touched on everything."
After being dragged down by controversy with the Mavericks, Howard was traded to Washington in February 2010. He tore his left anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and hasn't been the same.
"We touched on the fact that he's had a year off; he's going to have to get the rust off a little bit and all of those things," O'Connor said. "But all in all, you're getting a guy that's a quality NBA player that's had an ACL, and now let's see how he responds to it. Al [Jefferson's] had an ACL. Let's see how [Howard] comes back."
The Jazz initially wanted Howard but questioned whether they could afford to sign him. By agreeing to a one-year deal, Howard met Utah halfway.
"Our exposure is very, very limited," O'Connor said.
Josh Howard file
Position • Small forward
Year • 8
Age • 31
Vitals • 6-foot-7, 210 pounds
Career • 15.1 pts, 5.9 reb, 1.0 ast
Draft • 29th pick in 2003 by Dallas
College • Wake Forest
Born • Winston-Salem, N.C.
"I think we're going to continue to look," Jazz General Manager Kevin O'Connor said. "But I will say this in this respect: Everyone thought Dallas had too many people last year and they won the NBA Championship."
Howard played only 18 games for Washington in 2010-11 and struggled with tendinitis while recovering from a left anterior cruciate ligament injury. He averaged career-lows in points (8.4) and field-goal-shooting percentage (35.8).
Utah at Portland
P Monday, 8 p.m.
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