- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 8, 2001

DALLAS Just how fickle Washington Wizards fans can be is best illustrated by their treatment of one-time whipping boy Juwan Howard.
As the No. 5 overall pick in the 1994 NBA Draft, Howard was cheered for averaging 17 points and 8.4 rebounds his rookie season. With the Washington sports horizon typically bleary, Howard was a breath of fresh air, a budding superstar who carried a laptop with him on trips as he worked to get his undergraduate degree from Michigan.
The applause reached a crescendo when Howard averaged 22.1 points and 8.1 rebounds to earn All-Star status in his second season. He was a player who wept on the bench following a game that his team lost, and that endeared him even more.
But his image began to take a downward turn after Washington rewarded Howard with a seven-year, $105 million contract that most everyone in the Washington sports community at the time insisted he deserved. Teamed with Fab Five buddy Chris Webber in a tandem that was generally regarded as the best young frontcourt in the league at the time, he and Webber were in just one playoff series before Webber was traded. And after Howard was finally dealt to Dallas in an eight-player swap at the trading deadline last season, all he had to show for his tenure was a 206-308 record and the unstable experience of playing for seven coaches.
Now, though, Howard must feel as if he has gone to heaven. He plays for Mark Cuban, the most generous owner in the league (he recently purchased a brand new 757 to charter the Mavericks around), and he's playing for a team that expects to go far into the playoffs next spring.
Although Howard recently lost his starting power forward position, he won't say anything negative about the Wizards or Washington, the city that booed him relentlessly.
"I want to see Washington do well," Howard said yesterday. "That's still a place I consider home after spending so many years there. I got drafted there."
While in Washington, one thing Howard never did was come off of the bench. When he was clearly the second best power forward on the roster, as he was during the Webber years, Howard shifted to small forward even though he clearly didn't like the position.
When he was traded to Dallas, Howard was immediately anointed the starting power forward and played well there. Starting all 27 regular-season games with the Mavericks, Howard averaged 17.8 points, 7.1 rebounds and shot 49 percent from the field.
But eight games ago, coach Don Nelson decided he had to move perhaps his best player, 6-11 Dirk Nowitzki, from small forward to his more natural power forward position. And he also needed to add some firepower to a bench whose most consistent player this season had been aging Danny Manning.
So now Howard, who will make $18.75 million this season, is coming off the bench for the first time in his career. Since the demotion, Howard, who was averaging 12.5 points and 7.8 rebounds as a starter, is averaging 10.3 points and 6.9 rebounds. On the bright side, the team is 6-2 during that stretch.
"I'm used to being a 38-minute-per-game guy," Howard said. "I've got to handle it as a professional, coming off the bench. If I get upset and start pouting and being a disgruntled player, all it's going to do is hurt my performance and hurt the team. That's not my objective. I've never been a guy who handled things in an unprofessional manner.
"But I'm not thrilled about it. It's weird, because I've never come off the bench before."
Before he made the move, Nelson sat down with Howard and talked at length about the change. Nelson said it was a two-way conversation and that Howard handled the move despite some obvious reservations.
"I know it's not easy for him," Nelson said. "I know he'd rather start. But he's making the supreme sacrifice for the team. We've had several really nice talks, and all he's ever said is, 'All I want to do is win, Coach,'"
These days Howard seems more concerned with doing the things that will help the Mavericks continue their turnaround. Last season saw Dallas return to the playoffs after a 10-year drought. And now the team is in a new $230 million arena, American Airlines Center.
"To be with a team from the start of the season that has the potential to make a run at a championship, and to work for an organization that does whatever it takes to make that happen, that's a very good feeling," Howard said.
Michael Jordan worked out for 20 minutes and experienced no swelling in his right knee. He is expected to start tonight against Dallas.

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