From the moment he got to town, new Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle has talked up Josh Howard's game. He knows the wiry, 6-foot-7 swingman needs to play a significant role if the Mavericks are to launch a successful fast-break attack with point guard Jason Kidd.
And, frankly, without Howard, the team would possess even less athleticism than it's had on the roster the last few seasons, a key need and reason why the club signed young swingman Gerald Green and re-signed fourth-year swingman Antoine Wright. The Mavs have been reluctant to trade Howard through this rash of strange behavior that started in last season's playoffs and has culminated -- for now -- with the release of a video shot in July showing Howard verbally disparaging the National Anthem.
Mavs owner Mark Cuban again stood up for Howard, calling him a good guy and a friend who made mistakes. Cuban has refused to trade Howard, believing he is a cornerstone of the franchise as he heads into his sixth season, all with the Mavs. On Friday, Cuban inflamed the situation more when he chose to open up his email bag and post on his blog, blogmaverick.com, multitudes of vicious, rascist emails directed at Howard and Cuban that he's received in recent days.
Speaking by phone on Friday, Carlisle said he couldn't defend Howard's actions or his words and he knows Howard will have to face the music upon his return to Dallas.
"It's something he's going to have to address before training camp," Carlisle said. "I can talk to you about his summer of basketball, which has been great. This other thing is something that he's going to have to address when he's back here."
Carlisle happened to be with Howard in the player's hometown of Winston-Salem, N.C., shortly after the National Anthem firestorm erupted. Carlisle was on an unrelated trip that took him to North Carolina so he had planned to visit Howard, work him out and meet some of his family. He and Howard talked in length about this latest ordeal, and so has Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson.
It's fair to say that Howard will be walking a tight rope when he checks in for training camp on Sept. 29. By all accounts, he's been a tenacious worker this offseason, but it's clear that the Mavs' brass is not pleased with one crisis after another and they want it to stop.
It's hard to believe that just seven months ago, Howard was a fan favorite, a guy people loved for the way he played the game and the tenacity he brought to a team that's often been labeled as soft. Now he's quickly becoming reviled.
Carlisle is no stranger to messy situations or controversial players. He coached Ron Artest at Indiana during the brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Still, this can't be the way Carlisle hoped to kick off his first training camp with the Mavs.
"At Indiana we dealt with some difficult distractions," Carlisle said. "We'll get through it."
The distractions will surely start in earnest during Media Day on the 29th. It will assuredly attract outlets that would never show up under normal circumstances, but will now after Howard's infamous string of transgressions, which include a pot-smoking admission, a late-night birthday party after a playoff game, an arrest for driving 94 mph and now his unpopular video-camera take on the National Anthem at Allen Iverson's charity flag football game in July when he said: "The Star-Spangled Banner is playing. I don't celebrate that [expletive]. I'm black."
-- Jeff Caplan