Al Harrington in the Magic warmup he rarely got the chance to take off (Getty Images)
Al Harrington wasn’t supposed to be here. The Orlando Magic forward signed a mid-level exception contract with the Denver Nuggets in the summer of 2010, which you’ll remember as that famed ‘Decision’ offseason that also feels as if it took place ages ago. The problem for Harrington, and the Magic, is that it wasn’t ages ago – just 36 months ago, and Harrington is still technically under contract with a rebuilding Orlando squad that is both trying to mind payroll, and acquire assets for a rebirth that probably won’t take place until 2015 in the earliest.
Harrington’s contract ends during that summer, technically, but not before two seasons of partially guaranteed numbers that can be cut in half at any time, turning the 33-year old into an unrestricted free agent. Harrington, staring down his last chance to contribute to a contender, would no doubt like to flee the team that ranked worst in the NBA in winning percentage during 2012-13. Without saying as much, Al wants the Magic to either suss out their trade options with the forward, or waive the man outright so both parties can move on.
"I want to win, so I'll put it like this: I want to go to a situation where I can compete to make the playoffs," he said. "I'm too old to play for nothing. When I was younger, of course you play for stats and you want to be good, but I'm not going to be a Hall of Famer or nothing like that, so I want to win. I just want to win.
"Whatever situation I can get to where I can help a team win, that's what I want to do. I don't want to play 36 minutes or none of that. Play 20, 25 minutes, just help mentor the young guys and stuff like that."
That’s tactful, understandable, and admirable. Al Harrington, who graduated high school in 1998 (a fine high school class, I should add) can still contribute to a good basketball team. When given a proper role – a low post helper off the bench, and occasional corner three-point shooter that isn’t asked to rebound – he can help a team.
The Orlando Magic are also trying to help their team, though. And there’s nothing cold about general manager Rob Hennigan’s attempts to see what he can get for a player whose contract could be traded to a team, say, trying to sneak in underneath the luxury tax at any point between now and the trade deadline next February. The Magic could do significant work with Harrington’s unguaranteed years, while earning a draft pick or young prospect along the way in deal.
This, of course, puts Harrington in limbo. The guy wants to play, and he won’t play much in Orlando (the then-injured and scarily ill-stricken veteran notched just 119 minutes with a 20-win Magic team that couldn’t be bothered last season) under the current rebuilding rule. It must be awful, to be treated as an asset with a contract rather than a contributor with skills to put a team over the top.
That said, these are the vicissitudes that result when you sign a long-term deal. Harrington put pen to paper in 2010 hoping that his prime would be spent on a Nugget team that could capitalize on his all-around contributions. Instead, they capitalized on his tradeable contract, dealing him in 2012 for a younger all-around demon in Andre Iguodala that isn’t even around Colorado any more. Harrington’s purgatory in Orlando is the price one pays for glomming onto that particular price – Al will get more cash as a result of the 2010 deal, but it may be a while before he’s allowed to sign with the sort of team on the make that he thought he was joining in 2010. During Carmelo Anthony’s time as a Nugget, which (again) seems like it took place a decade ago.
To Harrington’s credit, in talking with Amick, he understands as much:
"One thing I realized is that it's not about how much you can play or what you can do on the court anymore. The game has become about (financial) numbers and salaries and stuff like that.
"It's not what you can do anymore. It's what you can do at that price. And everybody wants a deal, you know what I mean?"
Harrington was smart, at age 30, to sign a deal that provided him with some sort of financial windfall until the age of 35. He’s just dealing with the figurative back end of a contract that turns him into a number, which is par for the course when you let Dan Fegan smartly represent you, and you gladly take on a tradeable contract while hoping that the inevitable trades land you somewhere that pleases you.
It’d be nice for Al Harrington to act as an offensive X-factor for a good team next season. We completely understand, though, why the Orlando Magic are taking their time in seeking out options that benefit their rebuilding process.
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