3 Indiana Pacers Al Harrington doesn't want to be snubbed again come prom--er, playoff--time

Nov. 01, 1999
Nov. 01, 1999

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Nov. 1, 1999

NBA Preview 1999-2000

3 Indiana Pacers Al Harrington doesn't want to be snubbed again come prom--er, playoff--time

Ask Pacers forward Al Harrington about going to the playoffs
last season as a 19-year-old, and he'll describe what it was
like to lie awake, anticipating his first NBA title run. He'll
recall the nervous excitement before the tip-off and the sound
of his name being announced at Market Square Arena--and the fact
that Indiana dropped him from its postseason roster. Harrington,
who had made the jump from St. Patrick's High in Elizabeth,
N.J., to the NBA, went to the playoffs all right, but he did so
in street clothes. "It was the hardest time of my life," says
Harrington, with no trace of the warm smile that usually
dominates his baby face. "I had started to do really well in
practice near the end of the season. My confidence was up. I
really thought I could contribute...."

This is an article from the Nov. 1, 1999 issue Original Layout

Pacers executive vice president-coach Larry Bird thought
differently. While he could have used young legs in the
postseason, he was turned off by Harrington's youthful arrogance
and inability to focus on defense. "Al wasn't professional,"
Bird says. "He was running around here acting like some high
school kid. But there's no question he's learned from it. This
year, he's all business."

In fact, Harrington's play was the most promising development of
Indiana's training camp. If he can exhibit the same deadly jump
shot and creativity off the dribble in games that he unleashed in
practice, Bird will have a pleasant dilemma: Should he use his
old unit of Mark Jackson, Reggie Miller and Rik Smits in a
half-court, grind-it-out game, or rely on a smaller, quicker,
younger lineup of Harrington, Jalen Rose, Travis Best and,
eventually, No. 5 pick Jonathan Bender, another high school
player making the leap to the pros? The 6'11" Bender's offensive
arsenal has dazzled the coaches, but, as Bird is quick to note,
"he isn't ready to do much of anything in a game yet." Bender
will also be sidelined for at least the first three weeks of the
season with a fractured bone in his left wrist.

Harrington vows he will be a factor this year, after averaging a
scant 7.6 minutes as a rookie. He bulked up 24 pounds to 254
during a summer conditioning program and spent countless hours
with the Pacers' staff studying his shooting motion on video
tape. His cockiness has been replaced by a firm resolve to prove
he belongs. The postseason snub, he admits, was the catalyst.
"When it first happened, I was really angry," Harrington says. "I
felt like I was ripped off. But now I'm kind of glad it happened.
Every time in the summer when I thought I couldn't go anymore, I
remembered how Coach left me off the roster, and I found some
extra energy to keep at it."

Harrington spent last season living with forward-center Antonio
Davis, but Davis wanted a guaranteed starting job, which Bird
refused to give him, and was shipped to the Raptors in the deal
that brought in Bender. Without Davis coming off the bench, the
other Davis--Dale--will need to increase his productivity. Bird
will no longer have the luxury of using Antonio at center when
Smits is slowed by injury, ineffective or in early foul trouble,
all of which happened far too often last year, most disastrously
against the Knicks in the Eastern Conference finals. In that
series New York disposed of the Pacers in six games, exposing
them as too old, too predictable and too fragile offensively to

Smits, who has chronic nerve problems in both feet, was so
discouraged over his injuries and lackluster postseason play that
he contemplated retirement. "There were some days over the summer
when I wanted to come back, and plenty of them when I said to
myself, Maybe not," says Smits. "But by the time August came
around, I decided I had to come back. I didn't want to end my
career on such a bad note."

Smits isn't the only one with something to prove. Both Jackson
and Miller are in the final year of their contracts and are
seeking long-term extensions. For Miller, a four-time All-Star,
last season was one of the most disheartening of his 12-year
career. He shot a career-low 43.8% from the field and connected
on a less-than-Reggie-like 38.5% of his three-pointers. The
Pacers looked to Miller to hit his historic big-game threes
against the Knicks, but he was unable to deliver. The effect it
had on his teammates was devastating. "We were all guilty of the
same thing," says Bird. "We kept thinking, 'Reggie will bail us
out of this one.' But it never happened."

Jackson also experienced a frustrating year. During the regular
season, Bird often platooned him with Best at the point and even
benched him during crunch time. In the playoffs Bird leaned
heavily on Jackson, but his role could be diminished again now
that Indiana is beginning to look to the future. Pacers president
Donnie Walsh is taking a wait-and-see approach to Jackson's and
Miller's contract requests, and no wonder: Not only can he clear
salary-cap space by waiting, but he must also make contract
decisions on Rose and Austin Croshere at season's end.

Croshere, who was also impressive in the preseason, is among the
plethora of small forwards who will battle Harrington for
playing time. The group includes Rose, who can also play either
guard position; 36-year-old Chris Mullin, last season's starter
who has already been told he will be coming off the bench; and
veteran Derrick McKey, who missed most of last season with
injuries but is healthy and remains Indiana's most effective
defender. That's a skill Harrington is hell-bent on acquiring.

"Us young guys spent most of the preseason trying to signal the
coaches that rebuilding won't be so bad," Harrington says. "Hey,
I'm ready now. Last year they called me Baby Al. I haven't heard
it once this time around."


COLOR PHOTO: FRANK MCGRATH/NBA PHOTOS CLASS ACTION After learning on the job last year, Harrington may be ready to school others.


STARTING FIVE [3 1/2 stars]
BENCH [3 stars]
COACH [4 stars]
FRONT OFFICE [3 1/2 stars]
CHEMISTRY [4 stars]

By the Numbers

1998-99 record: 33-17 (tied for first in Eastern Conference)
Coach: Larry Bird (third season with Pacers)

AVERAGES (rank) (rank) (rank) (rank)

PACERS 94.7 (6) 44.8 (9) 40.5 (19) 13.0 (2)
OPPONENTS 90.9 (13) 43.4 (11) 41.0 (12) 13.0 (29)

In Fact

Indiana had the NBA's most stable starting lineup last season:
Dale Davis, Reggie Miller and Chris Mullin started every game,
and the other two starters, Rik Smits and Mark Jackson, missed
just one game each.

Projected Lineup


SF Jalen Rose 68 11.1 ppg 3.1 rpg 1.9 apg 40.3 FG%
Has never started more than 37 games in any of his five NBA

PF Dale Davis 129 8.0 ppg 8.3 rpg 53.3 FG% 1.14 bpg
More free throws made than missed (61.8%) for first time since

C Rik Smits 59 14.9 ppg 5.6 rpg 1.1 apg 49.0 FG%
Scoring (11.8 ), rebounds (5.0) and FG% (45.6) fell off in

SG Reggie Miller 31 18.4 ppg 2.7 rpg 2.2 apg 43.8 FG%
Indiana's leading scorer each of the past 10 seasons

PG Mark Jackson 99 7.6 ppg 3.8 rpg 7.9 apg 41.9 FG%
34-year-old averaged 9.7 assists in second of back-to-back games


F Chris Mullin 152 10.1 ppg 3.2 rpg 1.6 apg 47.7 FG%
Career-low scoring average but career-best three-point shooting

G Travis Best 168 7.1 ppg 1.6 rpg 3.4 apg 41.6 FG%
Has missed more games in last two years (one) than he's started

F Al Harrington 198 2.1 ppg 1.9 rpg 0.2 apg 32.1 FG%
Missed 15 fewer free throws than Reggie Miller--in 232 fewer

F Austin Croshere 270 3.4 ppg 1.7 rpg 42.7 FG% 27.6 3FG%
Career single-game highs of 17 points and nine boards in limited

F Jonathan Bender (R)[#]318 23.1 ppg 15 rpg 4 apg 5 bpg
31 points broke McDonald's high school All-America game record

[#] New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final high school year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 102)