Tobias Harris isn’t the most talented free agent available this summer, but he’s certainly one of the most intriguing. Statisticians gush over his advanced metrics — his 16.76 player efficiency rating ranked ninth amongst small forwards in the 2014/15 season. At 6’9” and 235 pounds, Harris is extremely versatile at his position. He’s also only 22. Still, there isn’t much buzz, at least not yet, for the player entering his fifth year in the league out of Tennessee.
Harris can become a restricted free agent this summer if the Magic, his current team, tender him a qualifying offer, which seems by far the most likely outcome. The Magic would have the chance to match any offer another team makes for his services. Harris averaged 17.1 points per game and 6.3 rebounds per game this past season in Orlando. Magic GM Rob Hennigan has said he intends to re-sign Harris no matter the cost, a signal that he would match any offer Harris might fetch from another team. Hennigan’s desire to retain Harris is also a potential sign that the Magic, a team that finished 25-57 and has tried to recently rebuild through the draft, is looking to contend for the playoffs soon. Before the season, Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel writes, Hennigan said he wouldn’t pay Harris near max money, but the executive’s stance has changed, according to Schmitz.
Ken Hornack of Fox Sports Florida suggests there’s a strong possibility that Harris will end up signing his qualifying offer, worth nearly $4.434MM, this summer to hit unrestricted free agency when the cap surges in the summer of 2016. Harris has said he and his representatives haven’t discussed the idea. After meeting with Hennigan following the end of the team’s dismal season, Harris labeled the exchange as “productive.”
“Talk went good,” Harris said, according to Kyle Hightower of The Associated Press. “Only God knows what’s next. I can’t control the future. None of us can. I’ll leave it up to management to decide what the overall plan is and go from there. We didn’t really talk too much about [a contract], just about the season. … He just told me not to worry about it and he’s proud of the year I had.”
That discussion took place before the Magic hired Scott Skiles as head coach. Skiles and Harris have a history together. Harris played the first season-and-a-half of his NBA career under Skiles when both were with the Bucks. Harris, who was the No. 19 overall pick in the 2011 draft, was basically buried on the bench and averaged only 11.4 minutes per game in his rookie season playing for Skiles. The coach, however, has said his relationship with Harris is strong and that the two have stayed in touch, according to Josh Robbins of The Orlando Sentinel (Twitter link).
In May, Harris told reporters, including Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv, that he was looking forward to the summer and the free agency experience. “Yeah, it’s going to be exciting,” Harris said. “Anytime you’re a free agent it’s exciting. There’s a lot of great players who are going to be out there and it’s going to be fun to see where guys end up. It will be good to see where my situation leads me.”
There are plenty of potential suitors for Harris because of his age, size, talent and ability. From an analytical standpoint, Harris is considered a new-age “versatile forward,” because of the skill-set he offers — Harris can defend bigger opponents and rebound, he is able to step out to the perimeter and shoot from three-point range, and he can attack off the dribble. Harris shot 36.4% from beyond the arc, and he was also efficient in the pick-and-roll.
Harris, who played high school basketball on Long Island, has been linked to the Knicks, who will be planning to try to attract the New York native, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post. Harris is a client of Henry Thomas, an agent with the Creative Artists Agency, the same group that represents Carmelo Anthony. Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders has linked Harris to the Sixers, Lakers and Hawks. The Lakers make sense as a suitor because of how poor the position of small forward has been for the team in recent years, and Harris’ all-around skills can help fill several of the team’s weak areas. Jackie MacMullan of ESPN recently suggested (video link) Harris as a potential target for the Celtics, who have slightly more than $40.4MM in guaranteed salary on the books for the 2015/16 season against a projected $67.1MM salary cap.
In the next couple of weeks or so, it would be surprising to many if interest and buzz didn’t pick up for Harris, who is viewed by some, including yours truly, as one of the league’s most underrated players. Harris has also been highly regarded around the league for his leadership and community service — he’s one of 10 finalists for the season-long NBA Cares Community Assist Award — which could only help his case on the market.