Harrington strikes serious tone with Wizards

Harrington strikes serious tone with Wizards
August 14, 2013, 2:45 pm
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Al Harrington plans to bring a winning attitude to the Wiz

As soon as the Wizards finalized an $80 million extension for point guard John Wall and re-introduced him on Aug. 1, they had a gem fall in their lap the very next day.

Al Harrington, a former Sixth Man of the Year candidate, had the last two years of his contract bought out by the Orlando Magic. On Wednesday, he was at Verizon Center and officially part of the Wizards, a 29-win team last season that hasn't made the playoffs since 2008. They're heading in the right direction, however, and that's what Harrington likes most about playing for his seventh NBA team.

"Just watching the way they finished the year when they were healthy, I just feel like this is a great opportunity where I could come in, help and try to push them over the top," Harrington said. "The talent that's on the roster with the guys that got a little bit of experience, with the young guys, I think it's a good mix. Adding me to it, I can definitely help these guys."

Harrington signed a one-year deal for $1.4 million, the veteran minimum, CSN Washington confirmed Tuesday. The Wizards didn't have room under the salary cap to pay him more than that and relied on the minimum exception to close the deal. Per collective bargaining rules, there is no limit to the number of players teams can sign to minimum contacts regardless of salary cap status.

The Wizards were in dire need of a versatile post player with his talents: Size (6-9, 245), experience (16th season), mid-range shooting ability (44.5% career) and even a three-point threat (35.2%).

While Harrington only played 10 games last season because of a staph infection in his right knee, he was medically cleared Wednesday and the Wizards were able to formally announce he was their 15th player under contract.

That's the maximum amount of players a team can have signed when the regular season starts. Training camp begins Sept. 28 at George Mason University in nearby Fairfax, Va.

Harrington said he is playing without a knee brace in pickup games of more than an hour. He already has begun shopping for a place to live, will fly back to Las Vegas on Thursday and when he returns he'll try to organize a mini-camp with teammates at Verizon Center. Wall, who spent his summer in Los Angeles and currently is in Miami, is slated to return next week. Nene, Harrington's teammate when they played for the Denver Nuggets, returns at the end of the month.

"I'm going to try go get in here early, try to get with the guys and have like a mini-camp amongst the players where we can all get in here, start working out, start working to that goal of being a playoff team this year," said Harrington, who relied on advice from Trevor Ariza, Wall and Nene before signing with Washington.

Aside from all of his numbers -- Harrington has averaged 12 points or more 10 seasons, spending most of those as a reserve -- the Wizards brought him in, a team representative told CSN Washington before the deal was finalized, also because of his locker room presence that was just as valuable. It's a character trait that has factored into all of their off-season signings that included Wall, Eric Maynor, Martell Webster and Garrett Temple.

Drafted No. 25 overall out of high school by the Indiana Pacers in 1998, Harrington not only accepts coming off the bench but he thrives doing it. He takes his job seriously.

"The biggest thing is trying to get this team an attitude of winning and just being no-nonsense players," said the 33-year-old. "That's the one thing I'm going to push to these guys. Listening to the coaches, executing the game plan and they'll probably put us in good position to win ballgames."

It's not just lip service. Two summers ago, during the lockout when players and owners were at a stalemate and attempting to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement, there was "The Lockout League" in Las Vegas.

Without the summer league there for rookies or training camp for vets to keep sharp during the off-season, Impact Basketball hosted a makeshift version in the city. The first few games were poorly officiated and rather sloppy.

The intensity, however, ratcheted up considerably because of the appearance of two players: Harrington and later Wall.

Harrington was the first player to arrive with a business-as-usual attitude. The games became more physical. After he was poked in the eye by then-Denver Nuggets teammate Melvin Ely, who was playing for the other team, Harrington exploded in anger and kicked over a cooler of sports beverage. He was even assessed technical fouls.

Then Wall arrived to the facility, and the pace of the games picked up another notch. The overall quality of the player-organized exhibitions improved.

Now these two, Harrington and Wall, get a chance to play together. Wall has made no secret of his desire to have a "stretch" power forward to play off of which should make him more efficient running the offense.

Until his knee injury with Orlando, Harrington played an average of 74 games per season in the previous 10 years.

He gives coach Randy Wittman options. The Wizards believe his skill set is so versatile that he can be used in all three post positions. His shooting ability allows him to play at small forward and his brute strength can help him plug in at center despite being a tad shorter.

When teams such as the New York Knicks and Miami Heat opt to play "small ball," the Wizards now have enough pieces to balance the floor with rookies Otto Porter and Glen Rice, Ariza, Webster, Maynor, Temple, Bradley Beal, Trevor Booker, Wall and now Harrington.

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