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NBA AM: Extensions Not Always What They Seem

Sometimes not reaching a deal is better than it seems. For Orlando’s Tobias Harris he has a chance to control his own future in many ways… Kobe Bryant remains committed to the Lakers.

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Not Always What It Seems:  As the season wound down last year, an NBA player posed the question to me, “What do you think the Magic will offer Tobias Harris?” The question was more about trying to gauge his own value, but it also framed the question of what is a guy that averaged 14 points and seven rebounds per game on a team that won 23 games really worth?

Just around Labor Day, the Magic reached out to Harris’ camp to start the conversation and offer up the idea of a deal in the $9 million per year range. Harris’ camp was seeking something more substantial. Those talks were cordial and ended without any sense of progress. The two sides never talked numbers or negotiated again.

The Magic’s stance is that failing to reach a deal with Harris means very little. They’ll have the right to issue a qualifying offer in July and restrict his free agency, giving them the option to match any free agent offer Harris receives. They tried to get a deal done at a number that made sense to them, but that number didn’t make sense to Harris’ camp.

For Harris, the fact that the Magic never really negotiated with him was the hardest part.

“You know it’s a part of the game,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a part of the business. I think right now I’m just focused on winning. Focused on my team and just focused on getting better. You know it’s a little disappointing, but it’s a part of the game.”

Harris finds himself among a few other players at his position looking at free agency next summer. San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard did not reach a deal, although it’s assumed that the Spurs opted to wait to preserve what would amount to $8 million in salary cap flexibility next summer before doing a deal with Leonard.

Chicago’s Jimmy Butler was initially offered something similar to Harris, a deal in the $8-9 million range. The Bulls’ final offer was said to be in the neighborhood of $11 million per year. However, there was a sense around the extension deadline that Butler could receive that kind of number in restricted free agency, so why not roll the dice and see if he could play his way into a better deal?

Harris’ camp views his situation in a similar fashion; what he was offered by the Magic is likely there for him this summer, and he too has a chance to play his way into a better deal either in amount per year or in how the deal is structured. Doing a deal now would have been entirely on Orlando’s terms and waiting until July offers the opportunity for a better frame work of a deal.

“I think it’s a big year for me,” Harris said. “Not just because I didn’t get an extension but because I work my tail off all summer to have a productive year for my team. It could happen like that and god willing it does; but like I said, I’m just here for my teammates to help us win games.”

The Magic indicated to Harris’ camp that they would likely match any free agent offer sheet, which is a common stance for teams with players in Harris’ situation. However, as last summer proved, other teams can affect the price and the structure of a deal, so nothing is guaranteed.

“I still come out here and play this game with my teammates,” Harris said. “Just focus on trying to win. All that stuff, like I said, it’ll handle itself eventually. We weren’t able to get a deal done now; you never know what could happen at the end of this year. My focus is just to play my game and help my teammates.”

As the details of Harris’ contract talks have surfaced, there has been some commentary from fans that Harris was “greedy” or was asking for too much, which is something Harris takes seriously.

“No not at all,” Harris said. “Like I said before, my agent was handling a lot of that situation. There was no negotiations that went down, so with that being said you can’t really control that type of stuff.

“I didn’t take it or nothing, being greedy? No, that’s not me at all. I’m for my team and like I said I just want to win.”

There will of course be questions about Harris’ future in Orlando. Will the Magic try and trade him before the February trade deadline rather than get drawn into a bidding war for his services?

For Orlando’s part, they continue to say they can’t envision Harris not being part of their future. However, without a deal in place, there will be rumors and speculation for sure, especially with the log jam the Magic have at the three and four spots on their roster.

As one insider pointed out about this situation, waiting allows both sides to know more about the future. Orlando will know if Harris is the franchise-type player his side would like to be compensated as and Harris can ensure that he is paid market-value for his services, whatever that number ends up being.

Failing to reach a deal doesn’t means anything more than that. The solution to the problem likely doesn’t happen until July, it’s just not as neat and tidy as all parties would have liked.

Kobe Doesn’t Want A Trade:  The Los Angeles Lakers are off to their worst start since moving to Hollywood and matching the franchise’s worst start during the 1957-58 season while in Minneapolis.

The 0-4 start has prompted some to suggest that the Lakers and Kobe Bryant should consider a divorce. Bryant is one of the few players in the NBA with a defined “no-trade” clause in his contract, something that was carried over from the last collective bargaining agreement, so a break up would have to be approved by Kobe.

“I hear the chatter of Kobe should ask out and he should go and play for a contender in this latter stage of his career,” Bryant told Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports. “But that’s not what I do. I’m extremely loyal to the Lakers.

“I believe in fighting through the tough times as well as enjoying the good times. It’s my responsibility to get us to be the best that we can be. It’s important that we approach that on a day-to-day basis.”

Bryant finds himself on roster without a lot of high level talent, making the dream of another NBA Finals run seem extremely farfetched. No one could seriously blame Bryant for wanting a better situation at this point in his career.

“I’ve enjoyed a great amount of success here,” Bryant said. “You can’t just enjoy the successful times and then run away from the bad ones. No, I don’t even think about [departing]. I’m a Laker.”

Bryant has come under fire as being part of the reason major free agents have opted against the Lakers. Bryant has laughed off the notion he was the reason guys like Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James didn’t consider the Lakers.

“It was really tough to land those free agents just because of the opportunities that they had,” Bryant said. “You got ‘Melo going back to New York, LeBron going back home to Cleveland. The odds just weren’t in our favor. But I took comfort in the fact that the Lakers did absolutely everything possible to make it happen. Absolutely everything possible.

“We offered Pau an incredible deal. I saw them put the work in. It’s much different than in 2007 when I felt like they were just sitting on their hands. This is not that case. They were going after it and being aggressive. I will fight for that till the end. They tried, tried and tried and it didn’t work out. I stand behind them 110 percent. I bleed purple and gold.”

Bryant has two seasons remaining on his deal including $23.5 million this season and $25 million next season. Bryant has indicated that while he has two years left on his deal, he is not entirely sold these will be the last two years of his career. Given how well Bryant has played so far this season, the window for another championship run isn’t completely closed; it just isn’t going to happen this year and for now Bryant seems to want to stay where he is at. Time will tell if that will change down the road.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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