PORTLAND, Ore. - Al Harrington will spend a few precious seconds with his hands on his knees, catching his breath, as the fast break heads up the court. These are moments where it seems age and miles have caught up with the Knicks forward and reality has set in. A player who only a few months ago felt certain he could be right there with the rest of the 2010 class as a free agent priority for the Knicks this summer is now looking at his career with a different perspective after another losing season.
"I want to win, man," Harrington says as he unwraps medical tape and compression sleeves from various parts of his battered body. "I can't do this no more."
The left knee, which is encased in a heavy brace, is so weak that Harrington has almost no explosion to the basket; yet somehow he finds a way to finish. His right shoulder, reinforced with tape, has inflammation in the AC joint and may require surgery after the season. But while he's doing little for his free agency stock, Harrington just keeps playing.
"As long as I can walk," he said, "I can play."
Shortly after he put up 26 points and 17 rebounds in 38:32 off the bench in Monday's 103-98 loss to the Jazz in Salt Lake City, Harrington admitted he sees himself more as a role player at this stage of his career. He believe he could handle playing 30 minutes a night. And his shooting, well, ask anyone who has ever played with Harrington and you know that is generally infinite. He took a team-high 20 shots in the loss to Utah and averages 14.4 shots per game, which is behind only David Lee (15.2) on the team.
But while Mike D'Antoni clearly appreciates Lee, mainly because not only can he finish but he is a talented (and, more importantly, willing) ball mover, while Harrington is what they call a ball stopper. And usually when it stops at Harrington, it's next destination is the rim. Earlier this season a player on the opposing bench alerted his teammate when Harrington checked in, "Whenever he gets it, he's shooting it." Harrington looked at the player, grinned and nodded.
His numbers this season (17.8 points per game) have certainly benefited from the system and the fact that D'Antoni continued to play him despite his ball-stopper reputation. And Harrington, who has noticeably put on extra pounds this season, has slowly transformed his game from maddening out-of-control drives to the basket to more of a low-post power game with an ability to hit three-pointers (34.1 percent from downtown this season).
It is this type of game he's hoping some team will value this summer. And if he had the choice, he said he'd take a lesser role to be part of a greater team.
"I'm 30 years old," he said. "Playing for max contracts and the All-Star Games and all that, that's behind me. Now, I just want to win as much as possible. That's what it's all about: playoffs. Getting to this point, when there's 10 games left and it means nothing, is the worst."