88373_nuggets_harrington_basketball_medium_mediumSigning Al Harrington and Shelden Williams doesn’t make the Nuggets any taller. But it might make them a little better.

By signing Al Harrington to a five-year, $34 million contract (with only three years and $26 million guaranteed per ESPN.com’s John Hollinger), Stan/Josh Kroenke and Nuggets management sent a bold message to their three most important constituencies – the fans, the NBA and, perhaps most importantly, Carmelo Anthony – by saying: we’re not done competing for a championship in Denver. Of course, my Uncle Marty – aka the Nuggets Curmudgeon – immediately derided the move by saying: “Almost $7 million a year for Al Harrington? He’s a journeyman!”

As has been noted by Hollinger and the Post’s Dave Krieger, Harrington’s signing puts the Nuggets approximately $6 million over the luxury tax line, meaning it will cost the Kroenkes $12 million. It seems as though Stan has come to the realization that – fair or not – under the NBA’s current (flawed) collective bargaining rules, owners have to be willing to pay into the tax if they intend to compete with the NBA’s elite for at least one more season. Moreover, with Dallas sneakily adding Tyson Chandler and re-signing Brendan Haywood, and Utah astutely acquiring Al Jefferson, the Nuggets had to do something to improve a front line likely to be sans Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen well into the 2010-11 season. Welcome to the Western Conference version of “keeping up with the Joneses.”

In basketball terms, there are pros and cons to Harrington's addition, which is why I'm not over the moon with this signing but see lots of positives with it (how's that for a political answer?).  

On the pro side, Harrington is a legitimate 6’9″ and 250 pounds. I remember watching Harrington go up against the Nuggets at Pepsi Center last season and thinking “damn, I didn’t realize he was that big.” Additionally, Harrington can score. In that appearance at The Can, Harrington erupted for 41 points…off the bench…and almost single-handedly defeated the Nuggets. (Unfortunately for Harrington, Carmelo Anthony – the player Harrington was supposedly guarding – had an eruption of his own and posted a career-high 50 in a 128-125 Nuggets victory). And those 41 points weren’t the most in one game that Harrington had last season. He had already scored 42 against the Philadelphia 76ers a month earlier.

Other pluses for Harrington? While he has only appeared in four postseasons during his 12-year career, two of them featured long playoff runs and he was instrumental in those runs. Harrington was a major contributor on both the 2003-04 Indiana Pacers that went to the conference finals as well as the 2006-07 Golden State Warriors that shocked the basketball world by upsetting the one-seeded Dallas Mavericks in the first round. Harrington was also on the 1999-2000 Pacers team that appeared in the NBA Finals, but injuries prevented Harrington from participating. The other plus of having missed a number of postseasons is that Harrington likely doesn’t have the wear and tear on his body normally seen on a 12-year veteran (it has also helped that Harrington settles for jumpers over mixing it up in the post…but more on that shortly under “cons”).

In regards to his role on the Nuggets, Harrington will immediately fill in at power forward for the re-injured K-Mart and – in theory – will keep a lot of double teams away from Melo as Harrington himself can fill it up on offense. And on Benjamin Hochman’s radio show today, Harrington boasted that Chauncey Billups and J.R. Smith are two of his “best friends” (yet another example of how the NBA’s bromance culture is ruining the game, but we can debate that issue another time).

Unfortunately for the Nuggets and their fans, the cons associated with Harrington might match the pros but certainly don’t exceed them. For starters, during his recent career Harrington has been all offense and no defense. I hope that this could have more to do with playing for Don Nelson and Mike D’Antoni for the past three seasons than anything else, but I’m concerned Harrington has picked up bad habits playing for those offense-only coaches. (In fairness to Harrington, he was a pretty damn good defender under Rick Carlisle in Indiana.) While Harrington played for the Knicks, at times I remember watching him wrestle with teammates for the ball – around the perimeter – and subsequently chuck ill-advised three-pointers with plenty of time left on the shot clock.

Furthermore, while playing outside the painted area may have extended Harrington's career health-wise, it's also a negative.  A guy who's 6'9" and weighs 250 should be mixing it up inside more, but Harrington's career 5.8 rebounds per game and 44.8% shooting is all you need to know about much he likes to play inside.  The more I think about it, Harrington's career reminds me a lot of Cliff Robinson's: power forward size and skill, but prefers the jump shot to taking it inside.  But who am I to judge?  Robinson was able to milk that routine for 18 seasons and Harrington just might do the same.

And finally, I'm not sold on Harrington and Melo co-existing harmoniously.  Their games are eerily similar: big-time scoring, no defense and insufficient rebounding combined with all-too-often settling for jumpers over taking it to the rack.  I think it's fair to question how well Harrington and Melo will fit together until we're proven otherwise on the floor.

Pros and cons considered, signing Harrington is worth the risk. Even though I wish Harrington mixed it up inside more and played defense a quarter as well as K-Mart does, he does make the Nuggets more potent offensively and gives Nuggets coach George Karl more options on that end of the floor. How many times last season did we see the Nuggets offense stagnate when Melo didn’t have it going? That won’t happen with Harrington on board. Whether Karl likes it or not, he’ll probably have to win games 125-115 next season instead of 105-95, as I’m sure he’d prefer.

On the other end of the free agency spectrum, Fanhouse’s Chris Tomasson is reporting that the Nuggets have also signed power forward Shelden Williams to a one-year, $900,000-ish contract. Williams might be a hard worker, a nice guy and Duke University’s all-time leading rebounder, but make no mistake about it: he’s a Stiff. Williams is a step slow, moves awkwardly and has no touch around the rim. In fact, if it weren’t for former Nugget – and Denver Stiffs Hall of Famer – Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Williams might hold the honor of being the biggest draft bust ever taken at the #5 overall spot (of course, it’s not Williams’s fault that he was drafted before Brandon Roy and Rudy Gay). But for a one-year minimum contract, the Nuggets could have done a hell of a lot worse and, at the very least, Williams gained some NBA Finals experience by playing for the Boston Celtics last season. Let’s just hope for our sake that Williams sees about as much action for Denver as he did in Boston.

Tomasson is also reporting that Anthony Carter will be returning to Denver. A lot of Denver Stiffs readers have already scoffed at AC’s re-signing, but I’ll stand by AC as a third-string point guard. And don’t underestimate AC’s value – both personally and professionally – to Coach Karl, something that deserves consideration in case this is Karl’s last season as Nuggets head coach.

In summary, the Nuggets generated much-needed enthusiasm today by signing Harrington while shoring up a few more roster spots with the Williams addition and Carter coming back. If they can somehow pull off a deal for a center like Emeka Okafor, as I’ve been advocating for and am confident can get done, the Nuggets may not get LeBron’d (and yes, I’ll be using that new verb relentlessly for now on) by Melo and instead, compete for a championship in Denver.

Photo courtesy of AP: Danny Chan La