5:48 PM EDT, March 29, 2013
Magic F Al Harrington didn't endure a grueling comeback to disappear into the shadows.
"I can't go out like this. I just can't," he told me. "Not this way."
Harrington, 33, said he is not ready to retire from the NBA.
He wants to go out on his own terms, a veteran's battle cry if there ever was one.
All signs point to the end of his stay in Orlando this offseason. The Magic are likely to buy out the final two years of his contract if they can't trade him.
His deal is not guaranteed, so he could be available for roughly half of the remaining $14.7 million owed him. Around $3.5 million a season sounds like tip money in the NBA, but teams wary of a more punitive luxury tax are now closely watching their salary caps.
First Harrington pledged not to allow knee surgery last offseason — and a harrowing staph infection that delayed his Orlando debut — to push him into retirement.
He not only returned, but he helped the Magic beat the Philadelphia 76ers on Feb. 26 in his first game in 10 months.
Al now refuses to call it quits even though the Magic have told him he probably won't play the rest of the season, another older player caught up in a youth movement. He's in the same boat with Hedo Turkoglu.
Harrington has been around too long not to realize how a rebuild works. He's a pro's pro, but that doesn't mean he likes sitting.
"I understand what they're doing here. I do. But I think I have something left in this old tank," he said.
His knee, apparently, is no longer an issue, although injuries throughout his career have taken a toll.
He has played in just 10 games for the Magic. Whether that sample size was enough to show other teams he is healthy and can still score is to be determined this summer.
Harrington hopes to hook on with another team, preferably a playoff-caliber club. If he can't, even as much as he loves the game, then he will face facts.
"I'm through playing with bad teams," he said. "If I can't [sign with a playoff team,] then that's probably it. What would be the point?"
Harrington broke into the league at 18, arriving directly out of high school in New Jersey. He became a prominent scorer with the Indiana Pacers, the team that drafted him. He then became something of a hired gun, playing short stints for the Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors, New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets.
He was productive playing off the bench for George Karl in Denver, averaging 14.2 points last season.
Then came the knee surgery, in May, his recovery last summer converging with Dwight Howard's unhappiness in Orlando.
Howard's trade included Harrington, who was shipped from the Nuggets to the Magic along with Arron Afflalo in a multi-team deal.
The truth is that Harrington didn't fit into the Magic's rebuilding plans back then, but his $6.6 million-a-year contract did, making this trade work.
You can't help but root for affable Al. Here's hoping he can say good-bye on his terms.
Bang for your buck?
Here's a mind-numbing factoid: The Magic have about $62 million tied up in contracts for players . . . . who currently are not playing or on the roster.
The biggest deal, of course, is the $20.8 million this season owed to Gilbert Arenas, who was let go via the NBA's amnesty clause. (And Arenas still has one more year at a $22.3 million next season! It's the grift that keeps on grifting.)
The Magic are paying or have paid four other players who aren't around: Hakim Warrick ($4 million), Quentin Richardson ($2.6 million), Christian Eyenga ($1.7 million) and Justin Harper ($762,000). Richardson and Harper were holdovers; Eyenga came over in the Howard deal; and Warrick's contract (but not Warrick) arrived from Charlotte in exchange for Josh McRoberts.
The following players are on the roster, but are not playing due to season-ending injuries or season-ending decisions by the club: Hedo Turkoglu ($11.8 million) Afflalo ($7.5 million), Harrington ($.6.6 million) and Glen Davis ($6.4 million).
First (-round) Noel?
Can the Magic afford to gamble on injured freshman Kentucky star Nerlens Noel with a lottery pick?
In any other draft with more impact players, the obvious answer is no. But this draft apparently features just one potential game-changer — Noel.
Noel can block shots and has a defensive presence at 6-10 — something the Magic desperately lack.
Noel had surgery to repair a torn ACL in mid-March after being injured a month earlier. Players can show remarkable recoveries from ACL injuries (see Adrian Peterson), but it's still a risk.
Grant Hill hobbling into Orlando to sign a $98-million contract still haunts the Magic. The franchise steered clear of Andrew Bynum in a possible Howard trade (bravo!) and passed on Jared Sullinger (recovering from back surgery) in last year's draft.
Do they dare to be great by picking Noel (some team will) and pair him with Nik Vucevic — or play it safe?
The Magic could take Noel and give him all next season to recover. They would continue to bottom out so they'd have a shot at Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker in next season's draft.
Did you see that Phil Jackson has joined Twitter? Soon he'll buy a cell phone. His first tweet: "11 champ:ipnsikp[ ringhs." Huh? It was all part of a clever promotion. In a video, Jackson's back is to the camera as he's typing away, exasperated. His computer screen then shows he's typed that unintelligible tweet. The he spins around and holds up his hands — where he has his heavy championship rings on 11 fingers — and says, "I take these off, right?"
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