The Added Value of Juwan Howard

I was all set to drop a post about the wisdom of the Juwan Howard signing when I find that Ben beat me to it in the post just before this.  It's not fair!  He gets all the cute girls Twittering after him AND he cuts in line on the JuHo post?  Bah!

Taking a second to echo his insights, yes...this was a decent move.  It costs the Blazers little to nothing.  It gives them a safety valve at power forward without taking away minutes from anybody (including Travis Outlaw).  Juwan has the right skill set for a Blazer power forward.  He's been through the NBA wars since many of his teammates were in the single digit age range.  When you're talking about a fairly minor roster spot you don't expect revolutionary play on the court.  You do want to counterbalance what you already have and maybe fill a subtle need.  With his experience alone Howard does both of those things.  Even if he never plays a minute (and remember those backup power forward minutes still belong to Travis at the moment) he could have more of an impact than some of the other guys mentioned in the last few weeks.  Stromile Swift and Greg Osterag wouldn't have played either and they wouldn't have brought much added value to the table.

This move might well show its worth in scenes we never see.  Brandon Roy was unquestionably the leader of this team last year.  He remains so this year and for the foreseeable future.  But heretofore Roy has seemed like a lonely leader.  Who could be his sounding board besides the coaching staff?  He's the captain of the ship and knows the final destination but he's not yet sailed all of the local waters through which he'll need to pass to get there.  Last year who could pull him aside and say, "Watch out for the reef near the shoreline" or "Your hand was a little heavy on the wheel back there"?  Nobody else had sailed any farther than he had and none of his teammates approached his skill.  I expect at some time during the season you're going to see a little quiet conversation between Roy, Howard, and Andre Miller.  Howard's been that star and felt the pressure.  More to the point he's seen a lot of guys lead teams for good and for ill.  He understands what it takes.  He's experienced how it gets botched up.  In Howard and Miller Roy has river pilots to help him negotiate the shallows.  They're about the only guys in the locker room who could pull him aside with authority and command attention.  They're also guys on whose doors he can knock at 2:00 in the morning when something is eating at him.

Similarly Greg Oden and LaMarcus Aldridge are trying to play their way into stardom and dominance.  Juwan is a natural mentor for them.  He was kind of LaMarcus before there was a LaMarcus.  He'd not be quite as much of a position coach for Oden but he can calm the big guy down and focus him.  All three of Portland's stars in the making could benefit from this signing.

Three years ago I'm not sure Juwan would have been in the place where he could accept such a role.  But he's 36 years old now and on a one-year contract.  He knows the score.  He knows that any year may be his last in the league.  His legacy is almost completely written and there's not much more he can do on the court to alter it.  But he has a chance to contribute something still...if not hanging around long enough to have a shot at a championship, perhaps having the pride of having given these guys a push towards their destiny.  When you're 30 or 32 you are kind of like a father to the kids.  Yes, you mentor them but there's also an old lion-young lion thing going on.  You're out to show that you've still got it.  You're marking your territory and protecting your spot.  When you drift above 35 you're more like a grandfather.  You don't have the responsibility of raising them and disciplining them nor do you have the burden of struggling with them.  You just get to dote on them and wish them every success.  Whether Howard stays with the team beyond this year or not, he has a chance to shape careers beyond his.  If the Blazers do win it all down the road he can smile knowing that his wisdom helped them along and those are partially his rings too. 

You don't get that combination of sentiment and ability to help from players save those in Juwan's position right now.  When I first brought up acquiring Shaq for last year's playoff run people started speculating that he could bring up Greg Oden.  That was never going to happen.  He'd have the experience and talent but not the inclination.  He'd have sooner pounded Greg into the hardwood than lifted him up and ceded minutes to him.  Juwan, on the other hand, has the ability and the personality. Judging by his early comments he also has the desire and the insightful perception of his role and purpose on this team.  Combined those make him a nice acquisiton.

We started the summer saying the Blazers' most glaring need (save perhaps more defense in the backcourt) was simply experience.  They needed someone who knows the right words to say, knows when to apply those words and when to keep silent, and has enough talent to be listened to but enough sense of his place not to try and take over the team.  They needed someone to bring perspective not only night to night but in those critical playoff weeks when every success and mistake is magnified a hundredfold.  It's now September, a couple weeks from the opening of training camp.  Review the shopping list.  Guru for the backcourt?  Check.  Got that early.  Guru for the frontcourt?  That's taken care of too.  Age-appropriate lunch partners for Joel Przybilla?  You know it, man.  Done and done.

The money move in the last six months might well have been adding the perfectly-suited star at point guard or small forward.  But that guy obviously wasn't available at the right cost.  If you can't get your "A" choice it's no good opting for Mr. "C".  You spend most of the money and get half or less of the return.  Instead you go a different direction, which is what the Blazers have done here.  This is a typical Kevin Pritchard era move:  lower risk, higher reward potential in ways beyond the obvious. 

Was it the spellbinding summer of our dreams?  Not exactly.  But it was still a good one.  This was the last bit to fall into place and the last significant move we'll see until one or more of the players gets traded.  Buckle up.  It's time to roll.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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