Harrington Deal Complete, Pacers Get Their Man
It might've been the worst-kept secret in Pacers history but ultimately that's of little relevance.
What matters is Al Harrington, finally and officially, is coming home. He left Indiana as Baby Al but returns as Big Al, a reflection not only of his maturity but stature as one of the league's emerging frontcourt stars.
After a well-publicized flirtation that began with the dawn of his free agency on July 1, Harrington was welcomed back to his original NBA home in a sign-and-trade deal today that sent a 2007 first-round pick to Atlanta. In addition to Harrington, the Pacers acquired another of their former players, center John Edwards.
“We’re very pleased to have Al back in Indiana,” said President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird, who coached Harrington his first two seasons with the Pacers. “We think he brings an added dimension to our team. We know what he can do and he’ll make us a deeper team and a better team. He’s also a very good guy. It’s a pleasure to have his personality back as well.”
The 6-9, 245-pound Harrington is expected to join close friend Jermaine O'Neal and emerging star Danny Granger to form a potent, athletic front line for the revamped Pacers, who have 11 new faces on the roster since the conclusion of the 2005-06 season.
Edwards, a 7-foot, 275-pounder who was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Pacers in 2004, was signed as a free agent by the Hawks last summer. He played in 40 games with Atlanta, averaging 1.8 points and 1.2 rebounds. He played in 25 games for the Pacers in the 2004-05 season, averaging 1.2 points.
Drafted out of St. Patrick's High School in Elizabeth, N.J., with the 25th pick in 1998, Harrington spent his first six seasons in Indiana, primarily as a backup, averaging 10.1 points and 5.3 rebounds in 354 games, including 91 starts. After being traded to Atlanta for Stephen Jackson in 2004, Harrington enjoyed the best two individual seasons of his career including averages of 18.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 2005-06, serving as a team captain and assuming the entirely new role of veteran leader both years.
Players that have joined the Pacers since the conclusion of the 2005-06 season (former team in parentheses):
“Al was a very good player for us for six years,” said CEO and President Donnie Walsh. “Going to Atlanta has expanded his game and he became one of the most prized free agents on the market. What makes this special is now Al fits perfectly into the team and style of play we’re trying to achieve. It’s a perfect time for him to come back. It’s also special because Al comes back to a place where he was one of our most popular players and a solid asset in the community. I think it’s a win-win situation for the team and Al.”
Though his career flourished, Harrington's team did not. The Hawks totaled 39 victories in his two seasons in Atlanta – 22 fewer than the 61 Harrington enjoyed in his final season with the Pacers. With Atlanta spending consecutive first-round picks on forwards Marvin Williams and Shelden Williams and looking to cut payroll, Harrington made it clear the top priority for his free agency would be to work out a deal with the Pacers.
The Pacers responded in kind.
“We feel this move brings us valuable assets, including additional salary cap flexibility as we move forward,” said Hawks Executive Vice President/General Manager Billy Knight. "When Al came to us, he brought a winning attitude to our franchise and he always put the team first. We are certainly in a better position now having had Al as a member of the Hawks.
"I appreciate the hard work and leadership that Al brought to our team, both on and off the court, as well as for John’s contributions for us last season. We wish them both well.”
After acquiring a $7.5 million trade exception in the deal sending Peja Stojakovic to the Hornets, Indiana moved to the front of the pack of teams in pursuit of Harrington. But it wasn't as simple a deal as it appeared. Atlanta's uncertain ownership situation, coupled with Harrington's decision to change agents in midstream, slowed the pace of the negotiations.
In the interim, there were media reports of an imminent deal as early as two weeks ago – before Walsh and agent Arn Tellem had even begun discussing Harrington's contract. More recently, published reports in Atlanta and Indianapolis over the weekend suggested the deal was off because the Pacers front office lacked the support of co-owner Herb Simon. But both Walsh and Simon subsequently made public statements refuting those reports and it became clear the deal was, truly, imminent.
Though it took a little longer than anticipated, the Pacers got their man.