After appearing they'd re-sign Al Harrington to the 15th and final roster spot for the 2014-15 season, the Wizards notified the 16-year veteran that they won't extend him a player contract, CSNwashington.com confirmed with multiple people with knowledge of the situation last week. The team was open to him joining the coaching staff -- the offer never was official -- but Harrington is going to play in China instead.
In a phone conversation Monday, Harrington said he'd play for the Fujian Sturgeons for what he says will turn out to be significantly more than the $1.448 million veteran minimum deal he would've gotten from an NBA team.
"I wanted to play there next year," Harrington said of Washington. "You look at some of the signings and stuff like that, so instead of me sitting the bench I just felt, 'Let me re-invent myself for real.' My knee feels good. My body feels good. The Chinese situation is where they're going to need me to score 30 points a night instead of playing 10 minutes, being 1-for-3 on threes and go sit down. It's an opportunity to go out and play the game the way I want to play at a high level. The CBA isn't the NBA but it's high-quality basketball and it's respectable. It's a chance to go out and push my body and see what I've truly got left.
"Last week I finally started feeling comfortable about it rather than just sitting here, waiting to see if I would sign with the Wizards. Would it before training camp or after training camp? I had to make a decision. There were other (NBA) offers out there but it wasn't with teams that were going to win. At this point in my career I can't be playing just to play. I've got to be playing for something. Playing for the Wizards I think we -- I mean, they -- had a chance to come out of the East. Maybe when I come back from China I can join them for the rest of the season. That's where I got my fingers crossed, hoping it'll happen."
Fujian, which is supposed to be a playoff team, begins training camp the first week in October and the season begins a month later. They'll play until February, pending on how far the team advances.
The Wizards pondered giving him the vet minimum for what likely would've been his 17th and final season but there were differing opinions. President Ernie Grunfeld told Harrington that the Wizards were keeping their options open with the 15th spot and wouldn't commit to him less than two months from the start of training camp.
The reason? Harrington, 34, has dealt with issues with his right knee and a left shoulder that required off-season surgery after his first season in Washington. He helped then-assistant coach Sam Cassell lead the Wizards' summer league team that advanced to the semifinals in Las Vegas last month. Cassell was allowed out of his contract over the weekend so he could pursue a role with the Los Angeles Clippers on Doc Rivers' staff.
Harrington averaged 6.6 points and 2.4 rebounds in just 34 games. He had his knee cleaned out in December. A 6-9 power forward who can stretch the floor with his three-point range, he only shot 34% from distance.
The Wizards have 14 players under contract, one short of the maximum allowed by the collective bargaining agreement, heading into training camp that is expected to begin Sept. 30.
This could be viewed as a bold move by the Wizards, who already allowed Trevor Ariza to leave in free agency to the Houston Rockets, and represents a change in direction. Harrington, like Ariza, is a veteran locker-room presence who was invaluable off the court so even when he wasn't playing he was a factor. Maintaining chemistry even with the addition of the new vets isn't a guarantee.
"The writing was on the wall when they signed Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair. Paul Pierce is a power forward now. When Brooklyn was playing it's best basketball he was the four. It's going to be a cluster there but everybody's heart is in the right place and it'll be able to work out. It's all about winning, but you never know," said Harrington, who lives in Los Angeles as does Ariza. "All summer with Trevor it was always we, meaning Wizards, when we both talked hoops. We saw Bradley (Beal), we kicked it, talked about next season with being we. It's basketball. Sometimes it doesn't work out. They're going to miss me and Trevor. We did a lot for that locker room. They still have some high quality guys there. I'm pulling for them.
"If I survive the season and get back I'll be in tip-top shape. I'll definitely be ready to go if I get an NBA chance," Harrington said about returning from China, where teams pay for housing, transportation, other expenses and tax breaks that makes the deal a more lucrative one. "If I don't then I had a 16-year run that's incredible. No one can take that from me. I'm vested in the league no matter what. I'm a basketball lifer."