Harrington available?

It’s been a foregone conclusion for so long that Al Harrington was going back to Indiana that today’s news out of Atlanta comes as a major surprise.

Harrington is an unrestricted free agent, and the vast majority of NBA teams are over the salary cap, which means a sign-and-trade would have to be worked out for any team that wanted to acquire him. When the Indy deal was being discussed, Harrington wanted a six-year, $57-million contract, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

So Harrington can choose where he wants to go, but he needs the Hawks’ help to get there. The Lakers are reported to be interested, along with Denver, Golden State and Minnesota.

That’s a lot of money for the Lakers to shell out, especially when they already have Lamar Odom (due $40 million) and Vladimir Radmanovic (due $30 million) on the roster. Harrington plays both forward positions and would force the Lakers to get creative with their lineup to get all three players the most minutes on the floor.

Signing Harrington also would put the Lakers at the luxury-tax threshold come next summer. The tax this season will be assessed on payrolls greater than $65.42 million. The Lakers would be at approximately $64 million for the 2007-08 season when you take into account their midlevel salary-cap exception.

If you want Harrington, you additionally have to be ready to pay him about $11.4 million for the 2011-12 season. No Lakers player is under contract that far in the future, not even Kobe Bryant.

It will be an interesting couple of days to see the Harrington fallout. The Lakers probably can deliver the Hawks the package of players with expiring contracts, draft picks and cash wanted for Harrington. The question is whether they want to make that $60 million investment in Harrington or let another team open its wallet instead.

There’s a short-term gain, to be sure, in adding a player like Harrington, but what about the long-term pain of a contract that onerous? This would be the kind of move expected next summer, when the Lakers will consider loading up in advance of Phil Jackson’s last season as coach.

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