Al Harrington ran on the anti-gravity treadmill, swung some heavy ropes and waited for the last Wizards teammate to leave after practice before he decided to take some shots. With the court all to himself and assistant Ryan Saunders tossing him passes, Harrington shot from different spots from behind the three-point line, maintaining the form that has allowed him to play 15 seasons in the NBA.
Harrington has yet to be cleared to participate in contact drills after having surgery on Dec. 9 to remove loose particles in his right knee. He is determined to make it back this season to help the Wizards reach the playoffs. He just doesn’t know when that day will come.
“I have a timetable in my head, but I don’t really want to say it, in case I don’t reach it. But I’m trying to get out there sooner than later,” Harrington said on Monday before joining the team for a flight to Charlotte. “I’m definitely going to get back on the court, for sure. For sure.”
When his troublesome right knee wasn’t healing properly and he experienced a setback last month, Harrington went for another opinion in Vail, Colo., where an MRI exam revealed that he would need surgery to correct the problem. He then went to Houston for 10 days to work with Russ Paine, the trainer credited with helping Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson recover from a torn ACL to lead the NFL in rushing and win the most valuable player award.
“Built a foundation there and still kind of doing his program,” Harrington said. He then chuckled when asked if he planned to run for 2,000 yards. “That’s the goal.”
The Wizards (14-17) have gone 12-10 since Harrington made his last appearance on Nov. 12 in Dallas but he has made his presence felt behind the scenes. Harrington helped organize a critical players-only meeting, hosted teammates at his Indianapolis home for Thanksgiving and has served as an unofficial assistant coach on the bench, passing along the knowledge that he accrued in the league.
“Whenever the team is struggling, it’s tough and I just try to be positive with them, pick out the bright spots, things aren’t that bad,” Harrington said. “We were just one of the hottest teams in the East, then we had a three-game skid. But we can come back. We’ve got the talent. We’ve got the poise and we can get it done. We’ve just got to take it one game at a time. No better way to start than in Charlotte.”
Harrington, 33, appeared in seven games and averaged 7.9 points and shot 42.9 percent from long distance in the role as stretch power forward. He scored a season-high 15 points in an overtime win over Brooklyn.
He was seeking to revitalize his career after being limited to a career-low 10 games in Orlando last season, when he was recovering from a staph infection that developed after another surgery to remove the meniscus in the same knee. His recovery process since his latest injury has gone well.
“It’s been good. Positive,” Harrington said. “I don’t have any pain in my knee right now, so that’s good. I just feel like I’m going in the right direction. We’re being cautious with it. They don’t want me to rush back out there and neither do I, because like I said, when I get back out there this time, I want to be able to finish the season strong.”
Until then, Harrington will continue to assist with his words, so long as they keep listening.
“I catch myself. Feel like I might overstep my boundaries sometimes, by telling the guys what to do, but it’s just me trying to help,” Harrington said. “That’s why I try not to say something all the time, because I know after a while it’ll be, ‘You ain’t even playing, why you always got something to say.’ I just try to pick my spots and when it’s needed, I say something and sometimes, I have to let something slide. But for the most part, they respond to me.”
Despite the recent three-game losing streak, Harrington has also been impressed by the growth of the team.
“I just try to help them, because at the end of the day, they’re all good guys, they all want to win, and they are playing the right way,” he said. “I don’t think we have any selfishness in the locker room as far as “me” guys. The only time selfishness comes in is when guys get down on themselves because if you’re not the best you can be as a player, you’re killing the team and I think that’s the only selfishness we have is guys allowing their confidence to go down. It carries throughout the whole team.”