With No Regrets, Harrington Deals With Losing

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 10, 2006; 11:18 AM

Atlanta Hawks forward Al Harrington tries not to think about how things could've been different -- for himself, for Ron Artest and for the Indiana Pacers -- had he never demanded a trade following the 2003-04 season. Harrington would be lying if he said some "maybe" thoughts never crossed his mind.

Maybe he wouldn't have had to lose 14 more games in one season with the Hawks (69) than he had in his final two seasons in Indiana combined . Maybe the brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills never would've happened. Maybe an Artest mental meltdown would've opened the door for Harrington to finally become the No. 2 option on the Pacers. Maybe the Pacers wouldn't have another season of championship expectations sabotaged by Artest.

Maybe, just maybe, had Harrington just kept quiet and played out the final two seasons of his contract in Indiana, some of these situations could've been avoided. "Obviously, you can sit back at times and say, 'Well, if I was there this [would've happened],' " Harrington said. "But you know, I don't have no regrets. None."

It was only about 18 months ago when the 6-foot-8 Harrington, frustrated with his role on a Pacer team that advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals, asked out of Indiana (although he first voiced his displeasure to Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh and not the Indianapolis Star, as Artest did). Harrington had just finished runner-up to Antawn Jamison for NBA sixth man of the year but he felt stifled in Pacers Coach Rick Carlisle's regimented offensive system, playing behind both Artest and his best friend, Jermaine O'Neal.

Since joining the Hawks following a trade that sent Stephen Jackson to Indiana, Harrington has been granted his wish of becoming a team leader and an offensive focal point. His numbers have steadily increased in Atlanta -- he currently is averaging career-highs with 19.3 points and 7.3 rebounds -- but the losses have mounted at a more mind-numbing pace: The Hawks have lost 82 percent of their games (91 of 111).

"When I came here, I wanted to let people know that I can really play and pretty much, I've proven that -- but I ain't got nothing to show for it," Harrington said. Losing is "one thing I never got to experience in my life, and it's rough. But I've learned that even while you're in turmoil, remain positive. It's not going to always be like this. I'm appreciative of this situation and when I get back to winning, I'll enjoy it a lot more."

Considering Artest's missteps in the past two seasons, Harrington probably would've been given the same opportunity to produce -- and win -- had he remained in Indiana. When told that his chance could've come last season after the Malice in the Palace, when Artest was suspended for the final 73 games of the regular season, Harrington laughed. "It's funny, I have a whole different point of view on that. I look at it, if I was there, [Artest] wouldn't have been in the game during that time," he said. "Because that was one of the situations where they didn't have nobody else to put in the game and they just left him out there. When I was there, we had two teams. If [the Pacers] had a 15 point lead with five minutes left, [the starters] were sitting on the sideline icing and we was finishing the game. I always felt, if I was there, [the brawl] never would've happened."

The Pacers still advanced to the playoffs without Artest last season, with Reggie Miller offering his heroics for the last run. Harrington suffered a miserable campaign, wearing his heart on his wristband following each of the Hawks' losses. This season has basically been more of the same, with Harrington's Hawks piling up the losses while the Pacers attempt to win in spite of Artest's antics once again.

"Ron is a fool for wanting to leave," Harrington said. Harrington, however, added that the portrait of Artest as a crazy young man isn't the most accurate. "I think what it is, it's hard for Ron to express himself. He does it the wrong way. Sometimes he goes overboard, but that's just who he is," he said. "You see he backpedaled [on his trade demand] a week later and said, 'I'm sorry.' " Where Artest is headed has been the greatest unsolved mystery of the last month of the NBA season. The Pacers have been extremely patient in moving the capricious and combustible forward, leaving Artest dangling in limbo with the Pacers and several of the teams reportedly in pursuit of Artest's services -- the Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers -- doing the limbo in the standings until a resolution is reached.

After Artest made his trade demand on Dec. 10, O'Neal publicly campaigned for the Pacers to bring back Harrington. "Ever since I got traded, he's been trying to get me back," Harrington said with a laugh. "We're like brothers." Harrington, who spent his first six seasons in Indiana after being drafted No. 25 in 1998, told the story of how he had once formed a pact with O'Neal and Jonathan Bender that the trio would never part. "I think he's holding on to that," Harrington said of O'Neal. "Now look at it. Jonathan had to retire [because of knee complications]. I left. He's there by himself."

Harrington was rumored to be part of three-team deal that would've sent him back to Indiana, Artest to Denver, the Hawks receiving injured forward Nene and point guard Earl Watson -- a deal that apparently excited every team involved except the Hawks. Harrington, who will become a free agent this summer, has been the subject of trade rumors since last offseason. He finds the attention flattering, not distracting. "I'm happy that I might be traded for the right reasons -- teams have actually tried to trade for me. It's not the other way around, where my team is trying to trade me. It's kind of cool," he said. "A lot of people respect what I do out there. Right now, I'm just focused on playing the best that I can and trying to be the top free agent come next summer," he said.

Harrington said if he had to do it over again, he would've still asked to be traded from Indiana. "Yeah, I would," he said. "I just felt in Indiana, I was in a situation where they wasn't going to allow me to grow the way I felt I wanted to grow. I mean, obviously, I'd have more wins right now, but I felt it was time for me to grow. I think it would be hard to backpedal and go back."

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