Warriors becoming Team Turmoil
He used to be known as Baby Al, a reference to his having made the jump to the NBA straight out of a New Jersey high school in 1998.
Warriors forward Al Harrington is no teenager anymore, and he's apparently not kidding about his rift with coach Don Nelson and his request to be traded.
"It's beyond repair," a source close to Harrington said Wednesday of his relationship with Nelson. "He'll continue to play because he has to. But he's never going to see eye to eye with Nellie."
So it goes for the Warriors, the NBA's newest Team Turmoil (move over, Knicks). The latest tremor to shake the Bay Area's team comes courtesy of Harrington, a 10-year veteran. Unhappy with his reduced minutes, his role as a spot-up shooter and what he considered to be disrespectful treatment under Nelson last season, he (along with his agent, Dan Fegan) met with Warriors vice president Chris Mullin on Tuesday to officially state his desire to play somewhere else.
The incredible thing about Harrington's trade request is that it came a day before the Warriors' season opener (a 108-103 loss to the Hornets) and just a few days after he was named one of three team captains, along with Stephen Jackson and Andris Biedrins.
In a sign of just how strained the relationship has become, Harrington even suggested that Nelson purposely named him a captain to make him look bad if he were to come out a few days later with a trade request.
Only in the NBA.
And these days, it seems, only in Golden State.
Consider just some of the rather bizarre events that have transpired in the Bay Area since June:
• Baron Davis decided to opt out of the final year (and $17.8 million) of his contract and bolt as a free agent to the Clippers, a move Nelson termed "a kick in the teeth" in an interview with SI.com last month. It was later reported that Mullin had tentatively agreed to a three-year, $39 million extension with Davis only to have it nixed by team president Robert Rowell.
• Monta Ellis, who was supposed to take over for Davis at point guard, wrecked his ankle in a moped accident just weeks after signing a six-year, $66 million contract. Ellis was suspended 30 games by the team for violating the terms of his contract (and lying about the cause of the injury), a penalty he says he now plans to appeal. The incident again raised the appearance of a front-office rift, with Rowell publicly admitting that he had overruled Mullin on the latter's arguments for greater leniency with Ellis.
• Marcus Williams, the young point guard acquired in a trade with the Nets, wound up in Nelson's doghouse shortly after arriving. Williams, a 2006 first-round pick, did not play Wednesday while the Warriors used undrafted rookie DeMarcus Nelson as their starting point guard.
• Don Nelson, who as recently as two months ago was said to have one foot out the door, signed a two-year contract extension Wednesday. Meanwhile, Mullin -- the guy who hired Nellie to resuscitate the franchise two years ago -- is in the final year of his contract with no extension in the works.
It is the last bit of news that led to Harrington's formal trade demand. It's no secret that Baby Al and the Mad Scientist had begun to feud last season. Harrington believes Nelson made him a scapegoat when the Warriors struggled, and belittled him in the media and in front of teammates.
Harrington reportedly talked to Nelson about his frustrations over the summer, but the two apparently have not been able to find common ground. The situation reached a nadir last week when Harrington refused to reenter a preseason game against a Lithuanian pro team with five minutes left.
With the news that Nelson was about to sign on with the Warriors for two more years, Harrington decided he couldn't stay quiet any longer.
"Al's beef is with the way he has been treated," the source said. "It wasn't so much [the playing time or reduced role]. It was the comments and [other stuff]. Nellie basically treated him like a rookie."
In fairness, it should be noted that Harrington is a normally affable sort who had a legitimate gripe last season about not playing more often given that he was one of the Warriors' better players. (Harrington averaged 27 minutes a game, an eight-year low.) He also has played out of position, often at center in Nelson's small-ball schemes, mostly without complaint.
Meanwhile, Harrington has in recent days seen the Warriors begin negotiations on a lucrative contract extension for Jackson, who came over with him in the same trade with Indiana nearly two years ago, as well as the just completed deal for Nelson.
A Warriors team source agreed that Harrington has issues with Nelson, but suggested he also might have financial motives in mind. Harrington can opt out of the final year (and $10 million) of his contract after the season and become a free agent. The news of Nelson's extension, the source said, might have prompted concerns from Harrington that he wouldn't have a chance to bulk up his stats this season to bolster his free-agent value. Even better, a trade would help Harrington gain leverage since his new team would be under more pressure to re-sign him after having given up assets to get him.
"This is all about money," said the source, who wished to remain anonymous. "Fegan has gotten to Al. ... He's convinced Al [a trade] is the only way you're going to get paid." (Fegan declined comment to SI.com.)
The question now is, Would Golden State consider trading Harrington? Mullin won't comment. But it's no secret that the Warriors are actively seeking a point guard, and Harrington is good enough to attract a decent one in return.
The Pacers, for example, have been trying to trade the banished Jamaal Tinsley for months. Harrington played his first six NBA seasons in Indiana (and another half season in Indiana during the 2006-07 campaign) and has said before that he enjoyed his time there.
But a Harrington-Tinsley trade faces some potential snags. It would require the Pacers to include at least one extra player to make the deal work under salary-cap rules. Also, the Warriors might have concerns about Tinsley's injury history (he has missed 165 games over the past five years) and his lack of outside shooting. With a contract that pays him $21.5 million for the next three seasons, Tinsley might represent too big a risk.
The other reason to think a Harrington-Tinsley deal won't happen is because it hasn't happened yet. Mullin, a friend of Pacers boss Larry Bird, surely by now has a good read and solid opinion about Tinsley. Unless the Harrington situation has changed the calculus, he appears to have decided it's better at least for now to keep looking.
Some Warriors fans might disagree with Mullin about the need for Tinsley, but there is probably not much argument about Harrington. To them, it is simple. Harrington is being paid $9.2 million this season to play basketball. He needs to put aside his frustrations and do his job.
Indeed, Harrington got a mixed reception during pregame introductions from the home crowd at Oracle Arena on Wednesday. He then went out and contributed 13 points and seven rebounds in 42 minutes while taking on the main defensive chores against Hornets All-Star power forward David West. However, Harrington shot only 5-of-17 from the field, and he missed a key free throw and a wide-open, potential game-tying three-pointer in the final seconds.
Harrington will need to play better in coming days -- and certainly make more shots -- if he wants to increase his value on the trade market and stay in good graces with Golden State fans. If not, he'll be hearing more boos -- and a lot more of that old Baby Al nickname.