MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - For the first time in his nine-year career, Josh Howard didn't have a team to play for when the season began. Questions about his health and some lingering memories of issues off the court kept teams away from the 32-year-old free agent.
Howard never considered calling it quits, instead working out in Dallas and waiting for the phone to ring. His patience paid off when the injury-ravaged Minnesota Timberwolves came calling, offering not just money but an opportunity to contribute right away.
Howard joined the Wolves officially on Friday, suiting up for the game against the Golden State Warriors. With six of Minnesota's top seven players out with injuries, Howard will be relied upon immediately to lighten forward Andrei Kirilenko's load and give the second unit some help on both ends of the floor.
``There are a bunch of fighters on this team and that's the stuff I love. Guys who don't quit,'' Howard said. ``I'm very excited for this opportunity and I'm going to give it my all.''
The versatile forward spent last season in Utah, a signing that helped the Jazz mitigate the loss of Kirilenko, who played last season in his native Russia. He averaged 8.7 points, but needed a minor surgery on his left knee during the season. It's the same knee in which he tore the ACL in 2010, an injury that slowed him for nearly two seasons.
Howard said the knee is feeling good now, and the Timberwolves are counting on that. They were missing Nikola Pekovic (sprained left ankle), Brandon Roy (sore right knee) and JJ Barea (sprained left foot) against the Warriors. All three are hoping to return next week, but the Wolves will be without Kevin Love (broken right hand), Ricky Rubio (left knee) and Chase Budinger (left knee) for an extended period of time. Love and Rubio aren't expected back until December, while Budinger will miss three to four months.
Coach Rick Adelman said Howard would get five or six minutes per half to start out until the team could gauge his conditioning. With all the injuries, Adelman has simplified the offense, so he thinks the transition to a new team will be a little easier for Howard.
``He's been in the league for a while,'' Adelman said. ``He picks things up pretty quickly. Any veteran like that sort of knows, and we know we can run certain things to make him comfortable. He'll be OK.''
The Wolves also are unconcerned by a past that includes some spotty behavior. Howard drew some massive headlines in 2008, when he said on a radio show before the Dallas Mavericks played a playoff game that he used marijuana in the offseason. He was also arrested for drag racing.
Those issues are in the past, and Howard said he didn't think they would prevent him from returning to the court.
``You know you're finished when you sign those papers saying that you're retired. I never did that,'' Howard said. ``I did what I was supposed to do as far as cleaning up my image and doing the things to make myself better and I've got this opportunity today.''
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