By Rob Mahoney
Al Harrington was among the pieces that the Magic received in exchange for Dwight Howard, but he was always more of a commodity than an active component of Orlando's rebuilding plan. Team's looking toward the future just don't have much room for a player like Harrington -- who was then 32 and coming off of a major knee surgery -- even if his contract was needed to make the trade math work. Orlando kept Harrington in its back pocket, and upon his full recovery from surgery and a subsequent infection, Harrington suited up to play in 10 games for the Magic, producing 5.1 points and 2.7 rebounds per contest. It was sparse production in limited minutes, and in that way fitting for a player who never seemed to belong on a rebooted Magic roster in the first place.
But if there were any doubt as to this particularly odd fit, Orlando head coach Jacque Vaughn made Harrington's place with the team rather clear over the last few games. Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel elaborates:
Magic coach Jacque Vaughn intends to play his young big men -- 20-year-old Tobias Harris, 22-year-old Kyle O’Quinn, 22-year-old Nik Vucevic and 23-year-old Andrew Nicholson -- as much as possible in the Magic's final 13 games.
And that won't leave much, if any, time for Harrington, a 33-year-old veteran.
Harrington hasn’t played in Orlando’s last three games, including Wednesday night’s 106-94 loss to the New York Knicks.
“It’s really nothing to do with his knees,” Vaughn said.
“It’s a coach’s decision. I’ve talked to Al just about the remaining games that we have. He’s helped us in the wins at Philly and New Orleans. He’s proven that he can still play this game at a high level, and I’m going to give the opportunity to play to some of our young guys and give them some experience. I think he has experience at this game a little bit already.”
That's a tough break for Harrington after his long road back from knee surgery, but a sensible decision for a coach who has far more reason to invest playing time in the prospects on his roster -- even if that means playing the 6-foot-8 Tobias Harris as a nominal center in Nikola Vucevic's absence. At 18-51, Orlando is playing for evaluation and development at this point, while Harrington will likely be gone by next season. If the Magic are unable to find an acceptable trade partner for him, the team could release Harrington as a means of saving half of the money he's owed over the next two seasons, slashing Harrington's cap hit and potentially saving the Magic $7.4 million over two seasons. That's nothing to scoff at, and would make for an acceptable out barring some drastic change in Orlando's situation. Still, Harrington should prove helpful to some other team next season once he has the benefit of the summer and a training camp to really get back into game shape. Harrington has hardly looked himself in his limited stints for the Magic thus far, but he was one of the best reserves in the NBA as recently as last season. The lingering effects of an arthroscopic surgery are worrisome for any basketball player approaching his mid-30s, but Harrington's game should age and adapt rather well, and I still see him as a worthwhile rotation player -- albeit a forgotten one. It's amazing how a season of injury on an ill-fitting team can can so completely halt the momentum of a role player's career. But don't let Harrington's lack of immediate relevance distort how useful his game might be under different circumstances.