Wizards’ Al Harrington serving as “assistant coach” until he returns

Washington Wizards forward Al Harrington (7) passes the ball against Brooklyn Nets center Andray Blatche (0) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, in Washington. The Wizards won 112-108 in overtime. (AP Photo/Nick Wass) I’ll be back when I can. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

After a season in which he played a career-low 10 games and was benched for the final few months, Al Harrington was hoping to get back in time to face the Orlando Magic last Monday. But his troublesome right knee continues to hold him back and he was forced to watch, again, as the Wizards won, 98-80.

“That was God getting me back, because I was licking my chops trying to get to that game,” Harrington said, grinning. “I feel like I had some unfinished business there. It was tough, but it was cool. Happy that my guys won and the growth that we’ve been showing over the past two weeks has been amazing and hopefully just keep it going.”

Harrington will miss his 12th consecutive game with a sore right knee when the Wizards (9-9) host the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday at Verizon Center but he’s done more than simply run on the treadmill and get treatment while sidelined.

The 15-year-veteran was one of the leaders of the players-only meeting that helped turn around the season and he had the entire team at his mother’s house in Indianapolis for Thanksgiving. Harrington is also making contributions from the bench, offering encouragement to his teammates and passing along tips based on what he recognizes from his front row seat. He’ll pull aside Eric Maynor to remind him to be aggressive and tell Nene or John Wall how defenses are playing them.

“I’m an assistant coach. You didn’t know that? I’ve been coaching my [butt] off,” Harrington said with a laugh. “I’ve already talked to Ernie about getting another check possibly. We in negotiations for that right now. So, I’m coach Harrington and the player. Like back in the day, remember the guy would be the head coach and the player? I’m trying to bring it back.”

Harrington continued to chuckle, but he remains uncertain about when he’ll get back on the court. “I’m in the middle of a process right now. I don’t exactly how I feel yet. I got to get a chance to get out there and test it. Hopefully, one day this week or maybe next week, I’ll get out there and see what’s going on,” Harrington said. “Being that I’m a veteran coach says, whenever I’m ready, I can go. So it’s not like I have to get five practices in before he’ll let me get back on the court. It’s just a thing, when I feel comfortable and strong enough. Because I don’t want to keep playing, sitting, playing and sitting. I want to figure this thing out, so I can go full steam ahead into the season.”

The Wizards bench has struggled to find its footing – and that was even with Harrington adding his 7.9 points per game – but until he is ready, Harrington will continue to be the assistant coach in full uniform. The experience of sitting out and passing on knowledge has forced him to consider it as an option after the 33-year-old eventually retires.

“For me, it’s been a blessing,” Harrington said. “I want to stay in basketball when I’m done playing, so this may be a cool little segue to see if I got it. I always said I never wanted to coach, but these last couple of weeks, just in helping guys out, I feel like I might could be a coach. But right now, I’m a player. I’m focusing on playing. I hope to get out there soon.”

Coach Randy Wittman is encouraged by the progress of Otto Porter Jr. and said he would be a “game-time” decision against the Bucks. “He had another good day,” Wittman said of Porter. “It’s a process each day, seeing how he gets through the physical things that he’s doing.”

Harrington has gotten to know Porter over the past few weeks since the rookie has been his chauffeur to the airport for road games. Harrington joked that he controls the heat, but Porter handles the radio. “He has no music. It’s horrible.”

But Harrington is excited about what Porter will be able to add to the team. “He’s looking solid. He knows how to play the game. Obviously, we can’t expect him to come in and be a savior or anything like that. But I think the things he can add defensively, the way he shoots the basketball and just his basketball IQ will help the team. And at this point, we need all the help we can get. Because we can’t expect John [Wall] and Bradley [Beal] and all these guys to play 40 [minutes a game] and expect to not only make the playoffs but actually do something when we’re there, because we’re going to burn them out. We need everybody healthy and everybody contributing.

“I talk to him a lot,” he said. “I tell him, it’s going to be a tough process for him. The game is moving a thousand miles an hour and he’s going to find a way, find a groove and find his niche. With this team, the way we play, I think he’ll be fine.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.



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Michael Lee · December 5, 2013

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