Harrington says he hoped Atlanta would want him

By Sekou Smith and Mark Montieth
July 16, 2004

Stephen Jackson's introductory media session as an Indiana Pacer on Thursday coincided with a similar affair for Al Harrington some 535 miles away in Atlanta.

While Jackson entertained the Conseco Fieldhouse crowd with his wit and charm, Harrington marked his first appearance as a Hawk with some timely humor of his own.

"Braid it or fade it," he joked to his new boss, former Pacers player and executive and now Hawks general manager Billy Knight, who sports a distinctive fluffy Afro.

After he finished cracking jokes, Harrington got down to the business of why he left the team that compiled the NBA's best regular-season record for one that won 28 games.

"We had too many guys (in Indiana) and something had to give. I was the one who had to step back," said Harrington, 24. "This (Atlanta) is the place that in the back of my mind I was hoping would want me. It's like a blessing in disguise because this is a place I can make home."

Harrington had no harsh words for the Pacers, who traded him six years after drafting him out of high school in the first round. He even thanked Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh for assisting in the move.

"I'm just glad he kept me in the East because I didn't want to go west," Harrington said.

As the Pacers' sixth man last season, Harrington averaged 13.3 points and 6.4 rebounds. He was the runner-up to Dallas' Antawn Jamison for the NBA's Sixth Man Award. Despite his struggles in the playoffs, where his scoring average dipped to 9.5 points, he drew trade interest.

With Jackson gone and point guard Jason Terry the lone remaining veteran starter on Atlanta's roster, Harrington becomes the focal point of the Hawks' frontcourt.

It's a role Knight is convinced Harrington is ready to handle.

"When we drafted him, he was a young guy. And he's still a young guy. But he has matured with his game," Knight said. "He's stepped out away from the basket, he handles the ball and makes plays for other people. He also takes on defensive challenges, and he wants the ball in pressure situations. I think he'll bring all that here."