Howard sees return to Bullets as blessing All-Star says heart never left for Miami

August 13, 1996|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,SUN STAFF

LANDOVER -- Juwan Howard said his heart always has been with the Washington Bullets. Yesterday, the rest of him caught up.

"He's baaack," said Bullets general manager Wes Unseld, as he sat beside Howard at a news conference at USAir Arena.

"Yes, it's true," Howard responded. "Yes, indeed, I'm back."

It was as if Howard never had left. Perhaps that's because he was gone for such a short time.

Almost a month after signing a seven-year, $100.8 million contract with the Miami Heat, the All-Star forward spoke for the first time about the deal, and the bizarre circumstances that brought him back to the Bullets.

"I could go on forever talking about this fiasco," he said. "This has been Law School 101.

"I'm happy to be back here with the Washington Bullets organization. I've been through a tough time. It truly has been a learning experience for me, but I look at it as a blessing, a blessing from God. And I mean that from the heart."

Howard originally had rejected a $90 million offer from the Bullets. He signed with the Heat on July 13, but the NBA declared him a free agent on Aug. 1 after ruling that Miami exceeded the salary cap by guaranteeing him $9 million this season. Four days later, NBA general counsel Joel Litvin gave the Bullets permission to negotiate with Howard, and a deal was struck for roughly the same amount of money that he would have earned with the Heat.

He didn't officially become a Bullet again until Saturday, when an agreement was made among the NBA, the players union and the Heat. Under terms of the agreement, Miami no longer would contest the NBA's disapproval of Howard's contract.

"We are extremely excited about this turn of events," Unseld said. "We're looking forward to some fun times."

He welcomed another chance to sign Howard. "I didn't get it done the first time," he said. "But when the second time came about, I was determined to get it done as quickly as possible. And that's just what happened."

Howard said signing with the Heat was "a tough decision to NTC make, but at the same time, I had to do what I had to do. Now, that is behind me. Now, I am a Washington Bullet and I'm happy for that.

"I have much respect for [Miami coach] Pat Riley. The people in the organization really supported me the short time I was there. [But] this is where my heart has always been. It was sad to leave a place like this, but things happen in mysterious ways.

"I never thought I would be back here."

Coach Jim Lynam had an inkling. Asked when he first thought there was something wrong with Miami's contract, Lynam said, "Want my hustler's street instinct? The day it was signed.

"I'm looking forward to this, literally, more than anything I've ever done in my entire life," he said. Then, turning to Howard, Lynam added, "Welcome back, big fella."

A first-round draft pick in 1994, Howard led the Bullets in scoring last season at 22.1 points per game, and was second in rebounding at 8.1. He averaged 17.0 points as a rookie.

Howard said he was excited to be reunited with Chris Webber, his former Fab Five teammate at Michigan whom the Bullets acquired in a trade on Nov. 17, 1994 -- the same day they signed Howard. And he isn't concerned about the criticism in Miami over his decision to remain with the Bullets.

"You always have happy people and you always have sad people. I can't be caught up in trying to please everyone," he said.

Pub Date: 8/13/96

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