Juwan Howard: How The Miami Heat Dodged a 'Bullet' In 1996

Andrew Robeson@SportswriterguyAnalyst IIJuly 21, 2010

PORTLAND, OR - APRIL 24:  Juwan Howard #6 of the Portland Trail Blazers shoots against the Phoenix Suns during Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the NBA Playoffs on April 24, 2010 at the Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Since Juwan Howard's signing with the Miami Heat, much has been made of the story that this time 'he gets to stay.'

Intrigued, I had to do some research as to what this really meant, as most articles just skimmed over the subject.

Back in 1996 Pat Riley and the Heat were trying desperately to get three marquee players on the same team. Sound familiar?

With Tim Hardaway and Alonzo Mourning already under contract, Riley thought Juwan Howard was the necessary piece to give the Chicago Bulls a run for their money. 

Howard was a third year player at the time. During his inaugural year Howard received All-Rookie honors. In his sophomore campaign he was named an All-Star and received an All-NBA selection at the end of the season. 

After the '95-'96 season Howard became a free agent. A free agent with whom the Heat and Bullets were both interested.

The Bullets offered him $89 million over seven years. The Heat topped them with a seven year $101 million offer.

Howard sided with the Heat, but all was not over.

Riley, if you believe the NBA, had miscalculated the Heat's available salary cap. The money they were offering Howard did not actually exist.

Riley, again according to the NBA, had failed to factor in Mourning's restructured contract, and performance bonuses for Hardaway and P.J. Brown.

The league invalidated the contract. The Heat would fight the battle in court, but threatened with a $5 million fine and a one year suspension for Riley, they backed down.

''There was not one mistake made by us when it came to the salary cap. We did not forget how to add. We never broke the rules. We played within the rules of the collective bargaining agreement. The only people who broke the rules were the N.B.A., because they changed the rules as they went along. That's a fact,'' Riley said in a conference call with reporters at the time.

The Bullets would be the team to make Howard the NBA's first $100 million man, and the Heat have never felt so lucky (well until that whole Wade, Bosh, James thing.)

Well wouldn't the Heat have been better equipped to compete with the Bulls who dispatched them in 1996 Eastern Conference Finals?

Unlikely. The Bulls dominated the series, winning in 4-1 fashion. 

Oh, and it turns out, Howard wasn't that good.

Howard's 1996-1997 campaign was marked by injuries—injuries that would plague him the remainder of his career and large contract. He also had off the court troubles when a woman accused him of sexual assault after a party. (It's worth mentioning the charges were found to be false and Howard won a civil lawsuit against the woman.)

By the  2000 season Howard was considered a disappointment. With his large contract still on the books, Michael Jordan traded Howard to the Mavericks in 2001 at the trade deadline.

The Bullets, who by the end of Howard's time there had become the Wizards, failed to post a single winning record with him on the team. 

No longer considered a marquee player, Howard came to terms with being a niche player in the NBA. As a low post man Howard routinely put up decent numbers until his career tailed off in circa 2007 due to injuries and age.

From 2007 to 2008 Howard was released by three separate teams (T'Wolves, Mavs, Nuggets).

In the 2009-2010 season Howard became a role player with the Trailblazers and averaged 6.0 points a game to go with 4.6 rebounds. Good enough for the Heat to offer him the veteran's minimum and a chance to win a championship in 2011.

So if you're not convinced by now how that the Heat dodged a bullet, I'll throw in a new perspective.

Kind of like the "Butterfly Effect," but much more palpable.

Imagine that the Heat HAD been allowed to retain Howard and his contract. Every draft, trade, signing the Heat made from 1996 through the end of his contract would have been affected.

To put it in layman's terms, had the Heat gotten Howard, it is unlikely the Heat draft Dwyane Wade in 2003. It is even more unlikely that the Heat sign Wade, Bosh, and James in 2010. 

The Heat may have never won that championship in 2006, or have the shot they do now to win a few over the next few years.

May the Heat feel lucky that we did not get Howard in 1996, but rather in 2010.

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