While it’s clear that Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard are the most talented restricted free agents available, I think Tobias Harris deserves some love as well. He’s not on the same level as Butler or Leonard, but he could be a more realistic target for a number of teams since he likely won’t be getting a max offer sheet like Butler or Leonard and because those two seem like locks to have any offer sheet matched by their respective teams. Harris may not be the best player of the bunch, but he could be the top restricted free agent who is actually somewhat obtainable.
Harris is reportedly looking for a contract in the $12-14 million per year range, and based on his play this season, he should be able to find a team willing to offer something close to that. Harris wants to remain in Orlando, according to league sources, and was hoping to sign an extension prior to the Oct. 31 deadline, but the two sides couldn’t reach a deal. In fact, the two sides didn’t even have advanced talks. According to sources close to the situation, Harris’ camp talked with Magic brass in September about the upcoming negotiations and agreed to talk numbers at a later date, but that conversation never happened. It seems that Orlando didn’t want to extend Harris, choosing instead to let the market set Harris’ price instead. The Magic extended center Nikola Vucevic, signing him to a four-year deal worth $48 million (plus incentives), but took a wait-and-see approach with Harris.
The problem with that strategy is that a team could offer Harris a strategically structured offer sheet that makes Orlando hesitant to match, just as the Dallas Mavericks did with Chandler Parsons to steal him away from the Houston Rockets. The deal Harris inks could be a short-term pact with player options, a trade kicker and other things that aren’t very team friendly. The team extending the offer sheet has every incentive to structure the deal like that, so that they have a shot at prying him away from Orlando. Magic general manager Rob Hennigan has said that he can’t envision a scenario where Harris isn’t on the team long-term, so it sounds like he’s planning to match any offer the forward receives. However, restricted free agency is an unpredictable process; nobody thought that Parsons would leave the Rockets or that Jeremy Lin would leave the New York Knicks when he was restricted either. Nobody knows what will happen in July.
Harris will have a long list of potential suitors, as he is only 22 years old and has emerged as a potential star since being traded from the Milwaukee Bucks to the Magic in his second season. Now, he’s having a career-year, averaging 18.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists and one steal in 35.5 minutes. He has been Orlando’s leading scorer and go-to option as well as their best clutch player, hitting a number of game-winning shots.
The New York Knicks have been mentioned as possible suitor for Harris, as he is from Long Island and is good friends with Carmelo Anthony (they even work out together in the summer). The Los Angeles Lakers could be an option as well, since he would fit in with their young core and be the leading scorer that they need for life after Kobe Bryant. If teams like the Knicks and Lakers strike out on some of the big-name free agents, Harris could get a serious look.
Butler and Leonard are clearly stars, but that just means it’s extremely unlikely that they’ll be joining a new team this summer. It’s the players like Harris, Reggie Jackson, Brandon Knight, Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert, etc. who may be on the move after signing an offer sheet.
– Alex Kennedy