Note especially in the middle of the article.
You can call Al a sixth man -- for now
By Sean Deveney - SportingNews.com
Al Harrington must wait. He's sitting on the Pacers' bench in his blue warmup duds, watching the starting five his team trots out nightly -- Jamaal Tinsley at point guard, Reggie Miller at shooting guard, Ron Artest at small forward, Jermaine O'Neal at power forward and Jeff Foster at center. Harrington is biting his nails and adjusting his headband. After about six minutes elapse, Harrington gets up, strips down to his uniform and taps the scorer's table. He points to Miller and takes the court. His waiting is over. His night is under way.
Al Harrington must wait because, well, that's what he has done his whole NBA career. When he was drafted by the Pacers out of St. Patrick's High (N.J.) in 1998, his chance for playing time was delayed while Indiana chased a championship with veteran players.
Harrington had to wait behind Jalen Rose while Indiana adjusted from contender to rebuilder in 2000-01, then had to wait more while he recovered from a blown knee in 2002. When the Pacers traded for Artest, who plays Harrington's primary position, it sealed the legacy of waiting that now defines Harrington.
Harrington is a sixth man -- easily the best sixth man in the Eastern Conference and arguably the best in the league. The Pacers would not own the league's second-best record without him. Typically, Harrington takes the floor in the middle of the first quarter and is out there at the end of tight games. He is a big (6-9), athletic and energetic defender who pairs with Artest to form the toughest pair of defensive wings in the league. He operates best at small forward but can play power forward or shooting guard in a pinch. He hustles and rebounds. And he scores. Few players hit the turnaround jumper as well as Harrington, especially when he is on the baseline. He showed that last week, when he put up consecutive games of 21, 24 and 27 points.
"When I can come out and make some shots, my confidence goes up," Harrington says. "I always work on my game, and I feel like I can fit any role this team needs me to."
Even if that means playing the waiting game that all sixth men must play, and even if it means we only can speculate on how good Harrington would be if he were given a featured role on one of the many teams that would love to have him.
There are two schools of thought on Harrington, and if you ever want to cause a ruckus in a room full of NBA scouts, bring up Harrington. He certainly has his detractors, who point out that he is a bad ballhandler who does not create much for himself and does not have a 3-point shot. In some eyes, Harrington would have his weaknesses exposed if given more playing time. By that thinking, he belongs in the group of players that includes Tim Thomas, Rodney Rogers, Maurice Taylor and Corliss Williamson -- good sixth men who just don't cut it as starters.
[color=red:237e1ec0ad] But there are those who believe that Harrington, who turns 24 this month, is a hidden gem who has been lost in the talent shuffle in Indiana. "I don't think (the Pacers) would be where they are without him," says one Eastern Conference general manager. "He can fill in a lot of gaps and erase a lot of injuries. If you made him a big part of a team, he would only get better. I think there is a lot of interest in him (from other teams)."[/color]
The trade deadline is coming, but cross off Harrington's name. He is not going to be dealt and won't even be part of trade rumors (Harrington has denied rumors that he requested a trade from the Pacers). Indiana president Donnie Walsh wisely secured Harrington to a four-year, $24 million deal in November 2001, making him one of the league's true bargains and removing any incentive the Pacers would have for trading him. Not only is he talented, he is cheap.
Harrington's future, then, looks a lot like his present. He says he is content to serve as the sixth man, and any coach will tell you that what counts most is not who starts the game but who finishes it. Players, of course, usually see it differently.
"We're fortunate to have a guy like Al who is willing to come off the bench," says Pacers coach Rick Carlisle. "We'd love to play him more minutes."
Harrington can take minutes at power forward, but O'Neal signed a seven-year contract last summer, so Harrington would have to wait until 2010 to get the starting job. He could start at small forward, but Artest is one of the league's premier defenders and has a contract that runs through '07-08. Miller has a two-year contract, so maybe in '05-06, Harrington will take over the small forward spot, and Artest will move to shooting guard. Or, perhaps Harrington will have had enough of Indiana by then and will leave as a free agent when his contract is up in the summer of 2006.
"I know that, eventually, I will be a starter in this league," Harrington says.
Then we'll know whether Harrington is a potential star or just another decent sixth man. Could be a long wait, though.
Sean Deveney is a staff writer for Sporting News. Email him at email@example.com.