Harrington excited to join longtime friend Billups in Denver
At a time when most teen-agers are just happy to have a driver’s license, Al Harrington was developing influential relationships.
He was 17 when he went to work for New Jersey state Sen. Richard Codey, who kept him busy folding campaign letters, stuffing envelopes and getting everything to the post office.
To this day, when Harrington needs something done in his home state, he contacts the senator.
“He’s still very, very influential throughout Jersey,” Harrington said. “He’s the first guy I call.”
When it comes to career advice, Harrington seeks out another longtime ally: Denver ambassdor Chauncey Billups.
Harrington was a 16-year old participant at the elite ABCD Camp and Billups was a 19-year-old counselor when they first met in 1996. When Harrington went pro out of high school two years later, the two became offseason workout partners.
For 12 years, Harrington and Billups have played together in pick-up games from Bloomington, Ind., to Sarasota, Fla., to Las Vegas, Nev. Starting this fall, they will play meaningful games together for the Denver Nuggets.
“When we were on the same (pick-up) team, we usually never lose,” Harrington said Tuesday while sitting at his new locker at the Pepsi Center. “We have chemistry. I think it’s to my advantage to play with somebody like him, somebody I’ve been playing with my whole career.”
After stops in Indiana, Golden State and New York, Harrington landed in Denver last week after signing a five-year contract with the Nuggets. The move was a no-brainer after getting a recruiting call from Billups, whom he refers to as “Unc.”
“He just told me how great it would be to play in Denver, how much he would love to have me on the team and how much coach (George) Karl would love to have me,” Harrington said. “After hearing that, knowing that you’re wanted, that makes your decision a lot easier.”
Denver’s status as an elite team also played a role in his decision.
Despite thriving in New York’s up-tempo system the past two seasons, Harrington saw his childhood dream of playing for his favorite team turn sour as the Knicks lost 103 of 164 game and missed the Eastern Conference playoffs.
“I grew up a Knick fan. I always wanted to play for the Knicks,” he said. “Being able to play there night in and night out, it was definitely fun. It was a good experience. But not winning in New York, you shouldn’t even be there. I’m excited to be part of winning again. I’m going to cherish this. I‘m excited about it.”
The Nuggets also have reason to be excited. At 6-foot-9, 250 pounds, Harrington gives them some much-needed help in the frontcourt. He averaged 17.7 points and 5.8 rebounds last season and he has knocked down at least 140 three-pointers each of the past three years.
“We’ve been looking for a shooting (power forward) since I’ve been here,” Karl said. “I think it’s very clear that he’s a very talented offensive player.”
Karl and Harrington were able to sit down for about an hour in the coach’s office Tuesday, and offense was hardly the primary topic. Scoring hasn’t been an issue for the Nuggets, and Karl wants to emphasize defense when training camp opens at the end of September.
After playing for the go-go Knicks and Golden State Warriors, Harrington is happy to return to the defensive principles that helped him break into the league as the 25th overall pick in 1998.
“When I first got to Indiana, I was like the eighth scoring option, so the only way I could get on the floor was by playing defense,” Harrington said. “I took pride in it. I knew that’s where my minutes were going to come from. I know I can defend, so I’m not worried about it.”
Karl joked that he needed Harrington to be a few inches taller, but he was serious when he compared his arrival to that of Billups, who brought some stability to Denver at the start of the 2008-09 season.
“I think he brings veteran character and teamwork and professional accountability,” Karl said. “And I think he wants to be on a winning team. Kind of like Chauncey brought us some leadership, I think Al will bring us some leadership.”
With his perimeter shooting, leadership and renewed commitment to defense and rebounding, Harrington will help compensate for the early season absence of injured forwards Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen, who are recovering from knee injuries. Equally important, he will help open the floor for small forward Carmelo Anthony, who attracts double- and triple-teams on a nightly basis.
"I think the transition (from New York to Denver) will be fairly easy for me," Harrington said. "It’s guys that I know. We all like each other. It’s not like you have a guy coming in that thinks he’s all this or that. I’m the type of guy that whatever it takes for us to win, I’m willing to do."
As an added part of his job description, Harrington plans to take J.R. Smith under his wing. The two are both New Jersey natives who came to the NBA straight out of high school. He also is looking forward to working with young point guard Ty Lawson.
Lawson wears No. 3, so Harrington opted for No. 7. Billups wore No. 7 when he first arrived in Denver before switching to No. 1 last season.
“I’m just going to stick with 7. I feel like I’m lucky (to be in Denver)” Harrington said. “That’s what my boys call me now – lucky – so I’ll stick with 7.”
Contact Aaron J. Lopez at email@example.com