Juwan Howard more likely to go pro than Jim Harbaugh -- but not just yet
At most schools, the offseason speculation is over whether a player will declare early for the draft. At Michigan, the recent focus has been over whether the coaches will go pro.
The answer, for now, remains no.
Juwan Howard reportedly turned down the Los Angeles Lakers to stay at Michigan at least another season.
That the Lakers thought they could sway him this offseason is particularly laughable. And even a little embarrassing.
The most obvious appeal for Howard to stay in Ann Arbor is that he has the opportunity to coach his sons Jace and Jett this season. At his own alma mater. It takes an extraordinary amount of hubris for an organization to even attempt dislodging Howard from a once-in-a-lifetime coaching and family experience.
From L.A.’s perspective, you could chalk it up to due diligence. Howard played with Lakers GM Rob Pelinka at Michigan and with LeBron James in Miami. But one wonders how well they actually know Howard if they thought there was even an iota of a chance he would choose money over family.
One thing is certain about this situation, though. The news of his rejection getting out is a public relations gold mine for Howard. That’s the polar opposite of where his football counterpart found himself earlier this offseason.
Jim Harbaugh’s Minnesota misstep
While Howard will be hailed for sticking with the victors, Jim Harbaugh was widely lambasted for his flirtation with the Minnesota Vikings. And rightfully so.
By making his desire to return to the NFL so blatant, Harbaugh left his recruiting flank exposed. Michigan State’s Mel Tucker, who signed a 10-year deal in November, has ample ammunition to tell recruits “Listen, I’m going to be around a lot longer than he is.”
Harbaugh did his best to backpedal from the situation. He has a new deal to coach the Wolverines through 2026, and assured Michigan AD Warde Manuel that his interest in returning to the NFL was “a 1-time thing.”
But by making that declaration public — which he had to in order to save face with recruits — Harbaugh boxed himself in. If he leaves Michigan now, he’ll be burning a Mackinac-sized bridge. Hard to see that happening.
Howard, on the other hand, has no such problems. And that’s why it’s far more likely that we will one day see Howard in the professional ranks.
Juwan Howard can pick his spot
There’s a chance Howard stays at Michigan forever. Not a likely chance, mind you. But he clearly has the leverage to be selective about any future moves.
Michigan means the world to Howard, and vice versa. The list of coaches who would have survived last season’s incident at Wisconsin is probably quite short. If you’re not going to get fired for whacking an opposing counterpart upside the head, you’ve got some pretty phenomenal job security.
Which brings us back to the question of whether the Lakers’ brass really, truly thought Howard would find their job appealing. The percentage chance of Howard getting fired at Michigan is somewhere in single digits. With the Lakers, you can win an NBA title and still be out of a job in 2 years, as Frank Vogel just learned.
Another perk of coaching the Wolverines: Howard is in charge of his roster. The Lakers probably wouldn’t have a job vacancy if they hadn’t traded a number of up-and-coming players to instead build an over-the-hill gang around LeBron.
Unlike the Lakers, the roster Howard has assembled for next season is very good. If power forward Moussa Diabate elects to come back after turning some heads at the NBA Scouting Combine, Michigan will be a pretty heavy favorite to win the Big Ten. And even if Diabate goes, the Wolverines should be the team to beat.
Hunter Dickinson is back. Shooting guard Caleb Houstan seems poised to reach the potential that earned him preseason all-Big Ten honors as a freshman. Michigan’s incoming recruiting class, featuring Jett Howard, ranks 10th nationally.
Michigan basketball has an opportunity to put together a season as special as that of Harbaugh’s football team last fall. This is no time to walk away, even if an NBA team with far less dysfunction than the Lakers came calling.
Eventually, that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Howard has the luxury of picking the situation that’s right for him instead of jumping to a desperate franchise. Like, say, taking over in Miami whenever mentor Erik Spoelstra walks away.
The respect for Howard on the NBA side is pretty clear. Brad Stevens apparently wanted him to coach the Celtics a year ago, but that was too soon for Howard to leave behind what he’s building at Michigan.
The difference between college football and college basketball? Rumors of NBA interest help Howard as a recruiter, whereas NFL rumors hinder Harbaugh. Football requires a 3-year commitment before a player can enter the NFL Draft. Continuity matters.
In basketball, the goal is to be draftable in a year. Certainly no later than your sophomore season. And if NBA teams want your potential college coach, that’s seen as an asset. Clearly, his coaching style meshes with what they’re looking for at the next level.
If other coaches tried using “Well, Coach Howard might be in the NBA soon” as a recruiting tactic, they’d likely be funneling the talent to Howard.
Rumors of NBA interest in Howard are a win for Michigan. Until the year when they metastasize from rumor to fact, anyhow.