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Virginia Men's Basketball

Where Will Joe Harris Go in Free Agency?

(Image – Zhong Zhi – Getty Images)

In 2016, Joe Harris was coming off a rough second season in the NBA. After he appeared in only five games for Cleveland that season as he dealt with a nagging foot injury, the eventual 2016 NBA Champions traded him to the Orlando Magic in December. Orlando waived him the same day. He was then out of the league for the next seven months, only able to look on as the same Cleveland team that had drafted him not two years previously went on a historic run to win a ring.

Eventually, on July 22nd of that year, Brooklyn Nets General Manager Sean Marks took a chance on the former-Wahoo by signing him to a two-year minimum contract. From there, Harris’ sheer determination and Kenny Atkinson’s mystical developmental powers took the reins.

In his first year in Brooklyn, Harris played in fifty-two games and averaged 8.2 PPG on 38.5% three-point shooting in twenty-two minutes per game. He carved out a role as a rotational player on a struggling Nets team that finished the season 20-62. Despite the team’s struggles, Harris showed promising flashes.

The next year, Harris continued to progress, upping his production to 10.8 PPG on 41.9% shooting from deep in seventy-eight games and twenty-five minutes per contest. He consequently established himself as a quality complementary player who provided necessary shooting from behind the arc. But, more than anything, that season was confirmation that Harris was on the right track as a developmental project. In fact, that offseason, Brooklyn doubled down by re-signing Harris to a two-year, sixteen million dollar deal.

Then, in the 2018-2019 season, both the ‘Lumberjack Joe’ moniker and Harris himself broke onto the scene. That season, Harris became a starter for Brooklyn and subsequently increased his production to 13.7 PPG on a ridiculous 47.4% clip from behind the arc. For what it’s worth, he also took home the 2019 Three Point Contest as he beat Steph Curry in the two-time MVP’s hometown.

This past season, Harris continued to progress as he was forced to be more of a creator while the team struggled with a significant number of injuries. In sixty-nine regular season games, he averaged 14.5 points per contest on 42.4% shooting from deep. Notably, in the bubble, Harris averaged 19.1 points per game on a whopping 55.1% shooting clip from behind the arc.

His steady progression over the last four seasons now has Harris as one of the top-tier free agents this offseason. He’ll benefit from a less star-studded free agent class. In fact, his next contract will likely be in the $12-18 million range, potentially doubling the annual salary from his last contract.

That said, there still remains a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the upcoming NBA offseason as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The salary cap will likely be lowered as a result of lost revenue. But, it remains to be seen just how much that number will decrease.

Nevertheless, Joe will have plenty of suitors when free agency kicks off in late October, which raises the questions: Where will he go in free agency and which teams will be looking to add him to their respective rosters?

Brooklyn Nets

To me, this is still a discussion of Brooklyn versus the field. At this point, Brooklyn is Harris’ home. They’re the organization that took a chance on him back in 2016 and have continued to work with him through his development. They’re the ones who signed him again in 2018. Now, it’s time for both sides to cash-in.

Brooklyn has built itself a legitimate title-contending roster with stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, along with complementary contributors including Jarret Allen, DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris Levert, and Taurean Prince. Now, signing Harris to a long term deal would complete a star studded rotation and provide necessary complementary shooting and off-ball play adjacent Durant and Irving. Additionally, the recent hire of Hall of Fame point guard Steve Nash as the team’s new head coach only underscores how dangerous this team can be.

Notably, both sides have expressed their desire for Harris to stay in Brooklyn. Back in April in an interview with local YES Network, Harris emphasized that “in an ideal world, I would never leave. I would be able to play my entire career in Brooklyn. Obviously it’s a business at the end of they day and you can’t control a lot of things that go on. But, my ideal scenario [is to stay in Brooklyn].”

In August, Brooklyn GM Sean Marks noted that signing Harris to a long term deal is “priority number one,” this offseason. He then added, “it’s that simple. We’re obviously very proud of where Joe has come from and where he is today. He still continues to get better and still wants to work on his craft. So, signing him and seeing him with this group will certainly be a priority for us.”

Granted, that’s just talk, and who really knows what’s going on behind the scenes. But every indication points to Brooklyn wanting to keep Harris on their roster for the foreseable future.

Of course, Brooklyn will be in competition with a number of other organizations looking to sign Harris away. Fortunately for the Nets, they retain Joe’s Bird Rights which allows them to go over the salary cap to re-sign Harris. They may have to dip into the luxury tax to sign him. But, if there was ever a time for this organization to do so, it’s now.

Toronto Raptors

The Raptors are going to be very busy this offseason. With Fred Vanvleet, Serge Ibaka, and Marc Gasol all entering free agency, Toronto has a number of interesting decisions to make. After Anthony Davis ā€” who will be staying in LA ā€” Vanvleet appears to be the most desired unrestricted free agent this offseason. As such, it will be difficult for Toronto to re-sign him. If they are unable to do so, Joe will likely be their best option to fill the open spot in the backcourt.

With All-Stars Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam, Toronto is likely Harris’ best chance to play for a contender that isn’t Brooklyn. He’d be sure to fit well in Nick Nurse’s system and would a perfect complement to the blossoming star that is Siakam.

New York Knicks

Quite frankly, the idea of Joe Harris in a New York Knicks jersey makes me want to belch. But, the team has a ridiculous amount of money to spend this offseason and are in dire need of both experienced players and outside shooting.

I don’t expect Joe to sign with the Knicks, but I can’t rule out the possibility for a few reasons. First off, as one of the premier free agents this offseason, Harris is going to demand a significant pay day. Unfortunately, the Knicks are one of the few teams equipped to give him the type of money he deserves.

Additionally, they’re going to be desperate to cash in this offseason and could be willing to overpay (see Julius Randle’s three-year $63 million deal). And, lastly, despite changing organizations, Harris would be able to stay in the same city he’s taken to so well.

With the young core including RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox, and Dennis Smith Jr., Harris could be a veteran presence for a group of guys still trying to find their footing in the NBA. He’d be fantastic in that role and would still play a great deal of minutes with plenty of his own offensive opportunities What it boils down to is just how important winning is for Harris at this point in his career. If he’s hoping to hunt for a ring ā€” or at least playoff success ā€” New York is not an option.

Atlanta Hawks

Another incredibly young team, the Hawks actually have even more practical cap space than the Knicks. With Trae Young at point guard and both John Collins and Clint Capela penciled in as front-court starters, it seems that the Hawks will be looking to add both depth and experience to a relatively unproven group of off ball guards and wings.

As of now, Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish, and UVa’s own De’Andre Hunter makeup Young’s supporting cast in the backcourt. Adding Harris would significantly strengthen Atlanta’s proficiency behind the arc ā€” ranked last in the NBA in the 2019-2020 season at 33.3% ā€” while also solidifying the backcourt. Granted, Atlanta may prefer to give their young guys the opportunity to continue to develop rather than bring in the proven Harris.

That said, pairing Harris with the ridiculously dynamic Young would be crazy deadly and could help catapult the Hawks back into legitimate playoff contention.

Detroit Pistons

The Pistons are another team with a good amount of cap space this offseason. That said, it’s difficult to know what exactly they’ll be looking for. It doesn’t appear that they’re attempting a full on rebuild as they’ve got veteran players Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose playing significant roles. So, they’ll likely be hoping to bring in a few free agents that can bolster their roster to win now.

That said, the Duke product Luke Kennard is a similar ā€” albeit less proven ā€” player to Harris already on the Detroit roster. Realistically, it would make much more sense for the Pistons to stick with Kennard and try to spend big on a different type of player like Vanvleet or Montrezl Harrell. But, if Detroit strikes out with those players, it’s not out of the question that they’d pursue Harris.

I really don’t see Harris signing with Detroit. But the cap space they’ve got puts them in the conversation, especially considering the fact that a number of teams will be hampered by a potentially lower cap.

Prediction

Brooklyn is undeniably the favorite to sign Harris, and I’m predicting that Harris re-signs with the Nets. They’ll be able to pay him the type of money he wants. They’ll be title contenders. They’re the organization that bet on him early in his career, and they’re the ones that helped develop him into the player he is. All accounts point to the fact that Harris loves Brooklyn. So, for him, the only potentially detrimental aspect of staying in Brooklyn is the likelihood that he gets fewer shots as a result of playing with Irving and Durant. But I don’t expect that to deter him from staying and playing for a ring.

On the Nets’ side of things, having a player like Harris on the roster is going to be critically important with the number of ball dominant guards they have on the team. Even outside of Irving and Durant, both Dinwiddie and Levert are best with the ball in their hands. So having a player like Joe, who can have a significant impact on the game just by coming off screens, will make life so much easier for their star players. Additionally, because they have Harris’ Bird Rights, there’s really no excuse for not paying him the money he’s due.

Count on Harris staying in Brooklyn, and, if things go to plan, count on him fighting for the ring he missed out on in 2016.

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