Nothing is even close to official, and when it comes to the NBA, if it isn't official, it isn't a done deal. One need look no further than the reported three-team trade involving the Raptors, Suns and Bobcats which was supposedly scuttled by his Airness at last minute to see that nothing is certain until everyone has signed on the dotted line and the legal eagles at the league offices have signed off.
But if reports are to be believed, it's only a matter of time before Juwan Howard, one of the saviors of the Trail Blazers 2009-10 season, signs on with the emerging South Beach conglomerate that is the Miami Heat. The Trail Blazers have said they would love to keep Juwan for another tour of duty in Portland, but at some point the realities of an already crowded 15-man roster and the need to devote playing time to younger players at the backup power forward and center positions sets in.
If by some chance Howard does find himself in the Trail Blazers uniform come training camp, he'll be welcomed with open arms. He's a pro's pro. A favorite in both the locker room and the Rose Garden Arena. But if he takes his still enduring talents to another team, even a team that has quickly become the most hated franchise in the NBA by virtue of adding some dude named LeBron James and a guy who's been living in Canada for the last seven years, there is no one in the Trail Blazers organization who will wish him anything but good luck in all but two games next season.
Jeff Pendergraph will likely be the first to extend that fond farewell to Howard should he leave the Pacific Northwest for warmer, sandier pastures. Pendergraph, in his first season out of Arizona State, and Howard, in his 15th go-round since his Fab Five days at Michigan, formed a bond last season, one that Pendergraph says will endure regardless of wherever their careers may take them.
"The relationship me and him have formed through the last year kind of supersedes the superficial 'I'm on this team, you're on that team, I can't talk to you anymore.'" said Pendergraph. "He's like my big bro for life. I'd be sad to see him go, but there's always opportunities so you have to take advantage of all the ones you get."
Howard, one of the elder statesmen of the NBA and the Trail Blazers locker room, took up the time honored responsibility of guiding a fellow bigman through his first season in a league rife with potential pitfalls. Whether it was personifying what it means to be a pro in games and practice to schooling the young bucks on how to avoid temptation and tribulation on the road, Howard served as a living, breathing how-to guide for navigating life in the NBA.
"I'll definitely be sad to see him go," said Pendergraph. "That's my guy. He's like a big brother to me, but I want to wish much success to him. If the next place for him isn't with the Blazers, I got his back regardless. If he invites me to a barbecue I'm still going to go to his house."
Not that Pendergraph has totally given up hope his friend and mentor won't be back in Portland next season. That scenario seems like a long shot at this point, but if money for some reason becomes an issue, Pendergraph says he's willing to sacrifice if it helps to get Howard back in a Trail Blazers jersey come training camp.
"I wish he would stay, hang around with him again," said Pendergraph. "It's not like I get paid all that much but if I had to take a pay cut, I would to bring him back. I like that guy. He's like my big bro. Wherever he goes, if it's not with us, I'll be there supporting him. If he has a family barbecue I'll be there. On his birthday hanging out. I'm gonna get him a birthday present. I'll send him a card. That's my guy."
But money really isn't the issue, which is a rarity in the NBA. At stake is a legitimate chance for a guy who doesn't have much NBA time left to win a championship next season. While it would be nice to see Howard win that ring in Portland, the opportunity to join the odds-on favorite to win the 2011 championship is something no reasonable person could or would begrudge Howard for.
"That's why I'm not even mad at him," said Pendergraph. "You've got to get what you've got to get when you can. You don't get to play basketball forever, so if that's what you need to do to get that championship, I think he's earned one. He's been in the league forever, he works his butt off everyday, he's always there. I wish the best to him if that's what he does."
If Howard does indeed end up in Miami and if the '10-'11 season and playoffs play out the way many expect they will, Pendergraph will likely to be in the stands supporting his "big bro for life," assuming he's not lining up opposite him in the NBA Finals.
"If they win, I'll be there with him partying with him," said Pendergraph, "hanging out with a Juwan Howard jersey on."