Juwan Howard couldn't have been happier when the Minnesota Timberwolves acquired him in a trade with Houston earlier this summer.
The veteran forward was finally going to get the chance to play with Kevin Garnett, about four years after Howard said he made a mistake by not signing with the Timberwolves as a free agent.
Now that Garnett is gone -- traded to Boston at the end of July for five players and two draft picks -- Howard would rather not serve as the mentor to a team that has nine players that are 25 years old or younger.
Soon after Garnett was dealt, Howard asked vice president of basketball operations Kevin McHale and owner Glen Taylor to trade him to a contender.
"Yes I would love to play for a contender and put myself in the position to win a title before my career is over with," the 34-year-old Howard said Friday in his first public comments about the situation. "If I was 27 or 30 years old, this situation wouldn't be bad at all. That would mean I would still have time to grow with this team, because this is going to be a growing process."
While most of the principles at Timberwolves media day were speaking with optimism about the future of this young group, Howard was straightforward in his evaluation of what lies ahead this season.
"I'm like Kevin (Garnett)," Howard said. "He wanted to win a title before he's done playing and I feel the same way. But now, of course, we come to a team that has a different makeover. It's more of a young team that's building for the future.
"When I say the key word, the 'future,' that means that they're like two to four years away as far competing to have an opportunity to play in the playoffs. I'm just being honest here. Do I have that left in my career? Four years? No, I don't think so."
McHale said he understood where Howard was coming from and is looking into making a move. But so far, the teams that Howard has listed as desirable destinations haven't been able to offer the Timberwolves enough value in return, McHale said.
"Your career's a finite thing," McHale said. "At a certain point, it's over. And when it's over, you can't go back and redo it.
"So I understand where he's coming from. But yet I told him that from our standpoint, and with what we're trying to get accomplished, we need some stuff too."
If a trade is not consummated, Howard made it clear that he would accept his role with the Timberwolves as a mentor to young players like Al Jefferson, Randy Foye, Craig Smith and Gerald Green.
The classy Howard isn't interested in turning this situation into a circus, and he's looking to help establish some leadership and locker room chemistry on a team that needs both after losing Garnett.
"If the trade request is not awarded, I'm going to come here and I'm going to play hard," Howard said. "I'm going to be the professional I've always been for 13 years. I'm going to try to be the right leader for these young guys. I'm not going to try to be no cancer, no distraction for this team."
That's what McHale wants to hear. Even with Garnett as the heart and soul of this team last year, the locker room was at times a poisonous atmosphere while the losses mounted.
McHale and coach Randy Wittman said better chemistry is one of the biggest priorities heading into this season, and Howard has become known as a pillar in the locker room.
"He's a real professional. I think if you're in a situation where you maybe want to make a change or go somewhere else, it's hard to say," McHale said. "I think Juwan's going to be professional and do what we brought him in here to do. So we'll see where that goes."
Count the 22-year-old Jefferson as one of the Wolves who would love to see Howard stay. The lynchpin of the Garnett trade thinks he can learn a thing or two about playing in the post from Howard.
"He's always been one of the guys I've looked up to in this league," Jefferson said. "It's going to be fun having him beside me. It's a long season. You're going to have ups and downs and you're going to need a guy like him in your ear."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)