There's no question that Josh Howard's season-ending injury hurts. For Howard, it's obviously the worst timing possible, because he's likely going to be a free agent after the season. Here was his chance to recoup his value and get one more somewhat lucrative contract from somebody, and he gets hurt after playing four of his best games of the season. I feel for him. For the Wizards, it dashes any faint playoff hopes and removes a guy who was playing extremely hard. There's always the concern the rest of the team loses their spirit after something like this, though yesterday's performance eases those doubts somewhat.
But as much as this is painful for Howard (at all times) and the Wizards (in the short-term), it might not be the worst thing in the world. Let's try to walk through a couple silver linings below the jump:
1. This eliminates any chance he'll have his option picked up
I've been reading some of you make interesting cases for picking up Josh Howard's $12 million option this year, but the truth is, there was never any reason to do something like that. You have to pay somebody, I suppose, but why pay someone $12 million when you can let Howard go, start Al Thornton and use that money elsewhere? That's $12 million less to use to make an unbalanced trade, sign Mike Miller (if you want) or, hell, sign someone better if that's what you so choose. As much as Howard has been a boost in his short time in DC, he's not worth $12 million to this club.
I've also read the argument that Howard becomes a trade chip at the 2011 trade deadline because of his expiring contract. To that, I say two things. First of all, good players on expiring contracts rarely bring back much value, as we've seen this year. Secondly, unless we sign a max free agent, we're really not in the position to be taking on long-term salary for final-piece type players, especially with the new CBA coming. So I don't see the point of keeping Howard to trade him.
At the very least, Howard's injury provides a bit more clarity to his future in DC. That's too bad for Howard of course, but it probably is good for the organization to know.
2. This gives Al Thornton his chance
Ultimately, I think Al Thornton is who he is for the most part. He'll always be a relatively inefficient, but athletic small forward that plays aggressively, but doesn't pass much at all. However, that's not to say he can't make marginal improvements, particularly defensively and on the offensive glass. Those marginal improvements will come easier with more playing time.
After last night's game, I spoke to Thornton briefly about his time with the Clippers. He seems very happy to be here, though obviously we have to keep in mind that we're talking about a three-game sample during which his team is winning. Still, my growing sense is that he was kind of fed up with his situation with the Clippers. Mike Dunleavy is the kind of coach who wants his small forwards to sit in the corner and space the floor while Dunleavy calls a set play for someone else, and that doesn't suit Thornton's game particularly well. When I asked him about the differences between the two situations, he issued a pretty interesting parting shot to the Clippers.
"[With] my time with the Clippers, man, recently I didn't know where I was going to be night in and night out in terms of minutes. Like I said, sometimes I played 30 minutes, and the next game, I played three minutes. I really didn't know. With this team, I feel like I'm going to have a chance to come out and play every night and compete, and if I get a chance to go out there on the floor, I know I'm going to be effective. So that's the biggest difference."
Obviously, this isn't totally accurate, because Thornton did get consistent minutes a lot in LA in his three-year career, but the bottom line is that he felt this way and it might have affected his play. His defensive rebounding, for example, slipped noticeably off his rookie-year mark, which is significant because that strikes me as an effort stat. Then, of course, there's his defense, which has been excellent in his first few games here after being pretty poor in LA this year. Now that Howard is out of the picture, at least Thornton might get the kind of opportunity necessary to put himself in the right frame of mind, which is important because, for better or worse, Thornton's going to be on the roster next year unless he's traded.
3. It might finally spur a look at the D-League
One of my constant annoyances with this front office has been its disinclination to look at the NBA Developmental League for talent and, well, player development. However, assuming the news Scott broke about Mike Harris is true, this injury will have opened up a spot for a D-League guy. The Wizards may have looked toward the D-League anyway with so many potential open spots on the roster, but this now forces their hand. If Howard's injury leads to us signing Mike Harris (and maybe others) and them starring, it could lead us to consider using the D-League more, both in terms of our own affiliate in Dakota and in terms of finding cheap talent on other rosters. It'll be a small step back for what I believe is a big step forward.
Okay, so maybe reason #3 is a bit of a reach, but the point remains that there are some silver linings to Josh Howard's injury that could ease the pain of yet another Wizard going down. (Shameless plug: buy BF's injury T-shirt here).