Cuban: Mavs will deal with Howard's admission of drug use internally

DALLAS -- Dallas Mavericks forward Josh Howard brought unexpected and possibly unprecedented attention to himself Friday, just hours before Game 3 of the Mavericks' first-round series with New Orleans, by openly discussing his offseason marijuana use on Dallas' ESPN Radio affiliate.

Expounding on comments about marijuana that he made over the weekend to The Dallas Morning News, Howard joined "The Michael Irvin Show" on ESPN Radio 103.3 FM on Friday afternoon and told the Hall of Fame wide receiver that he "probably" would not smoke marijuana in-season even if the league did not have a random testing program. But Howard also described "smoking weed in the offseason sometimes" as his "personal choice and personal opinion."

"I don't think that's stopping me from doing my job," Howard told Irvin.

The 28-year-old from Wake Forest, selected by NBA commissioner David Stern to fill a roster spot created by injury on the Western Conference All-Star team in 2007, added, "I think that everybody in the media world and in the sports world knows that NBA players do smoke marijuana."

It was not immediately clear what sort of punishment Howard could face for his candor, either from the league office or his team. But one source close to the situation told ESPN.com that the league likely "can't" suspend Howard for simply talking about marijuana usage.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said before Friday's game against the Hornets that any punishment from the club will be meted out "internally."

"We won't make it public," Cuban said. "But we'll deal with it.

"We'll do what we need to do and deal with it internally and then that's it."

After the game, Howard was contrite.

"I'm sorry things have gone the way they are," Howard said. "I never meant to hurt nobody's feelings. ... It's over with now. I'm trying to talk about basketball."

On Sunday, Howard issued an apology on his Web site.

"I recently talked about a controversial topic with members of the media. I used poor judgment and I want to apologize to my fans, the Mavericks and the NBA. I am fortunate to be playing basketball in the League. I realize I have a responsibility as a role model for young fans, and I take that responsibility seriously."

Howard had insisted before the game that the fallout from his interview "hasn't been a distraction," thanks in part to the support of teammates. He was then cheered supportively by Mavericks fans during pregame warm-ups and again when he converted a first-quarter layup for his first basket.

NBA players are required to undergo four random tests every season between Oct. 1 and June 30. But a player who tests positive for marijuana is not subjected to his first five-game suspension -- or even public knowledge he has failed a drug test -- until his third failed test.

There likewise appears to be no penalty precedent for a player who merely shares details about drug use in the media.

Two sources close to the situation told ESPN.com Howard will almost certainly be entered immediately into the NBA's marijuana program -- which would require him to submit to counseling and much more frequent testing, including offseason checks -- but it would appear that he is not at risk for a suspension unless he has failed two previous tests.

The league issued no response to Howard's comments Friday, citing a policy in its anti-drug agreement with the union that forbids the NBA and the Players Association from publicly discussing specifics about drug issues.

"I haven't heard the interview and I haven't spoken with Josh," Mavericks coach Avery Johnson said during his usual pregame meeting with reporters. "Once I hear the interview and talk to Josh about whatever was said, we'll go from there."

Johnson did add, however, that Howard's decision to consent to the interview and invite questions on this topic on the day of a playoff game was "what I call poor timing and poor judgment."

Dallas is already reeling from a 2-0 deficit to the Hornets entering a crucial Game 3 at home.

Howard has struggled mightily in the series, averaging 13.5 points on 26.9 percent shooting from the floor. But the discussion about marijuana with Irvin came at Howard's urging -- as the station stressed repeatedly during subsequent programming -- to clarify the statements he made to The Morning News.

Asked by Irvin's co-host, Kevin Kiley, if he fears that his struggles in this series will be linked to his marijuana admission, Howard said: "Oh yeah, I understand that. … I know that's not the truth."

Added Howard, "Like I was saying to the [Morning News reporter], it has nothing to do with what I do as far as basketball, when I go out there and perform. That's how I feel about it."

He explained: "What I was stating was just [in response to] a random question he asked me about the marijuana use. I just let him know that most of the players in the league use marijuana and I have and do partake in smoking weed in the offseason sometimes and that's my personal choice and my personal opinion. But I don't think that's stopping me from doing my job."

Asked why he wanted to discuss marijuana on a sports-radio talk show, Howard said: "I was raised on being truthful and honest with myself and my family, so I can say it with no problems and go out there and perform to the best of my abilities tonight and not even think about it."

Howard first publicly addressed marijuana use and what effect it might have had on him slipping to No. 29 in the 2003 draft in an interview with ESPN.com's TrueHoop blogger Henry Abbott before last season's playoffs. The Morning News addressed the TrueHoop interview with Howard in an article that appeared in last Saturday's editions.

The Morning News quoted Howard as saying that he received no flak for the interview. And when asked to quantify the extent of his marijuana use, Howard told the paper that he got "a little crazy" in high school but uses it "less" now and never during the season.

Marijuana is "nothing I'm needing," Howard said. He contrasted that to some NBA players who he says "have to have it."

"What can I say?" Howard told the paper. "If you can do it and it's not affecting your everyday life, why stop? If I'm able to do it, but not while I play basketball, it lets you know I can quit whenever."

Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.