Al Harrington is headed back to the Indiana.
The Pacers acquired Harrington and center John Edwards in a sign-and-trade deal Tuesday for a 2007 first-round draft pick. ESPN.com's Marc Stein reports that Harrington's new contract is for four years and is worth $35.3 million. He has a player option in Year 4, meaning Harrington can return to the open market as an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2009.
"We're very pleased to have Al back in Indiana," Pacers president Larry Bird, who coached Harrington his first two seasons with Indiana, said. "We think he brings an added dimension to our team. We know what he can do and he'll make us a deeper team and a better team. He's also a very good guy. It's a pleasure to have his personality back as well."
Arn Tellem, Harrington's new agent, told Stein on Monday night that the Pacers were "very close" to finalizing a sign-and-trade arrangement with the Atlanta Hawks that had been weeks in the making.
The most Harrington could have received from the Pacers is a six-year contract worth $57 million. But the fourth season of Harrington's new contract, sources say, will be at his option, meaning the 26-year-old will have the opportunity to return to the free-agent market in the summer of 2009 if he chooses.
"We feel this move brings us valuable assets, including additional salary cap flexibility as we move forward," said Hawks general manager Billy Knight.
"When Al came to us, he brought a winning attitude to our franchise and he always put the team first. We are certainly in a better position now having had Al as a member of the Hawks."
Harrington's return to the team that drafted him 25th overall in 1998 was considered inevitable in front offices leaguewide for much of July, prompting interested teams to gradually drop out of the bidding. As negotiations dragged on, Harrington severed ties with agent Andy Miller and hired high-powered Tellem to restart the process. Yet reports this past weekend that the Pacers had squandered their chance to reacquire Harrington proved unfounded because of Indiana's $7.5 million trade exception.
That exception -- created in July when Indiana persuaded the New Orleans Hornets to participate in a sign-and-trade for Peja Stojakovic instead of simply signing Stojakovic away outright -- established the Pacers as the only Harrington suitor that could complete a sign-and-trade without forcing Atlanta to take back significant salary. Other interested teams included Golden State, Denver, New York and the Los Angeles Lakers.
NBA front-office sources say Atlanta's teetering ownership group, in the midst of a legal battle with former partner Steve Belkin to keep control of the franchise, had insisted from the start on taking back draft picks and/or cash as opposed to a player or two from Indiana's roster (such as center Jeff Foster or a more expensive veteran). The Warriors, for example, offered power forward Troy Murphy to the Hawks last month as part of a sign-and-trade that would have netted Harrington something closer to the six-year, $66 million contract he originally was seeking. But Murphy, who averaged a double-double in his past three full seasons, has nearly $51 million left on his contract over the next five years.
The Hawks eventually backed off their cash demands and told the Pacers they'd make the trade as long as Indiana sent them a first-round pick and agreed to absorb Edwards' salary. Atlanta's reluctance to deal with the other teams chasing Harrington maintained Indiana's position as the favorite to land the versatile forward, with the Pacers hoping the increasingly fast pace in today's NBA will permit Harrington -- at 6-foot-9 and 245 pounds -- to play plenty of power forward in an athletic frontcourt setup alongside Jermaine O'Neal and Danny Granger.
Acquiring Harrington is doubly crucial because he'd ease the burden on Granger when it comes to replacing Ron Artest. The Pacers' $7.5 million trade exception thus looms as one of the most valuable assets of the NBA offseason.
When Stojakovic gave the Hornets a verbal commitment to sign with them mere hours into free agency on July 1, Indiana faced the very real threat of having nothing to show for January's trade of Artest to Sacramento. But a payment to the Hornets believed to be in the $250,000 range -- coupled with the Hornets' knowledge that they'd likely be keeping Harrington away from a fellow West playoff hopeful such as Golden State or the Lakers -- turned the Stojakovic deal from an outright free-agent signing into a sign-and-trade, thereby creating the trade exception that set up Harrington's return.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.