“The first thing he said was, ‘Help me get to the playoffs,’ ” Harrington recalled Wall telling him.
Harrington is confident that he can help Wall make the playoffs for the first time in his career — and also end the Wizards’ five-year postseason drought.
After a season spent recovering from a staph infection following surgery on his right knee and as a misplaced piece in the Orlando Magic’s rebuilding efforts, the 33-year-old Harrington is eager to once again play a significant role on a team that is playing for something. He plans to board a flight to Washington on Tuesday for a physical and eventually sign a one-year deal worth the veteran’s minimum of $1.4 million with the Wizards because he believes the franchise is ready to return to respectability.
“I’m excited and I feel like this team is definitely going to make the playoffs,” Harrington said in a telephone interview late Monday night. “And I don’t care. I’ll go on record saying that. I feel like if this team is healthy, it will be one of the top eight teams in the East, for sure.”
In desperate pursuit of a big man who could stretch the floor and knock down open shots, the Wizards quickly pounced on Harrington after the Magic waived him and he cleared waivers. In 15 years in the NBA, Harrington has earned a reputation as a reliable reserve capable of erupting for scoring bursts and creating space with his perimeter shooting.
Harrington has averaged 13.7 points and shot 35.2 percent from beyond three-point range for Indiana, Atlanta, Golden State, New York, Denver and Orlando. He averaged a career-high 20.7 points in 2008-09 with the Knicks, but is also coming off his least productive season in more than a decade, as Harrington averaged just 5.1 points in 10 games in Orlando.
The Magic acquired Harrington from Denver in a four-team trade that sent Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers but he was never in the team’s plans — especially after a routine operation to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee in April 2012 resulted in a staph infection that nearly cost him his career and kept him sidelined until he made his debut in February.
“That was tough, because first, you don’t think about playing, you think about your life, because of the way I was feeling,” Harrington said of the staph infection. “I just didn’t know what would happen and basketball was the last thing on my mind and once I got passed that and I just had the knee pain, it never went away until, I would say, two or three months ago.”
Harrington was later benched the final few weeks of the season as the Magic relied on younger players.
“For me, last year was just a nightmare, from start to finish,” Harrington said. “The Orlando thing with, I think they brought me there never expecting me to play, but then I got healthy and it was kind of a surprise for them. It was tough, but I understood that was the business and they had to do it for whatever there reasons was. Winning wasn’t on they agenda and that wasn’t nothing I wanted to be a part of at my age.”
Harrington had two years and nearly $14.7 million left on his deal, but only half his contract was guaranteed. Orlando decided to waive him after being unable to trade him or reach a buyout agreement.
“I’m not giving nobody no money back,” Harrington said with a chuckle. “I feel like I earned the money anyway. Once they knew that and they knew I was no dummy, they knew they just had to honor the contract that they acquired when they traded for me.”
Harrington began training in late April with Joe Abunassar of Impact Academy in Las Vegas. The results have been dramatic. Harrington said he has lost nearly 30 pounds and is back to his playing weight from five years ago. He had an impressive workout for the Wizards over the weekend.
“Over these three weeks, is where I got to the point where I’d say I’m really close to 100 percent,” said Harrington, adding that he no longer needs the bulky brace that he was required to wear last season. “Everybody that’s watching me play right now is saying the same thing, that they feel like I’m back playing how I did, going back to when I was playing with the Knicks. That’s a good feeling for me.
“It was points last year — I didn’t tell many people this — but I thought about retiring and not playing anymore because of the pain I was having and just didn’t feel like I would ever get back,” Harrington said. “But God is good. He had a plan for me, and I just went out and worked. I’m feeling better, and I just want to go out and play.”
Harrington said he started envisioning himself playing for the Wizards last season, when he watched Wall lead the team on a spirited run after returning from a stress injury in his left knee.
“The one thing that they do not have is a stretch four, somebody that can spread the floor, not only for John but for Nene also, give him more room to operate. I just felt like this would be a good opportunity for me,” said Harrington, who played 1 1/2 seasons with Nene in Denver. “I spoke to Nene about it. I talked to John about it, they both wanted me there. It made it easier. It’s always good to go somewhere where they want you.
“I just feel like I can bring the veteran leadership,” he said. “Not only through my play, but things that I got to say because I been around long enough that I feel I would have respect, not only with the young guys but also the older guys, too.”
Harrington described himself as “an officer in the locker room” when he played for the Nuggets as he helped the coaching staff keep the players focused and engaged. He is already impressed by the attitude that he has seen in Wall and some of the other young players with the Wizards.
“I just think that, as long as everybody comes in with one goal in mind – and that’s to win – I think we can get it done,” Harrington said. “When I look at the roster, I like it. we’re pretty deep. The bench is going to be deep and we’ll be ready to go. Let’s go out here and make it happen. We could turn this thing around. I know Verizon Center is going to be jumping if that’s how it goes.”