Grade the deal: Magic with risk worth taking in keeping Tobias Harris
Orlando's biggest free-agency splash will be an act of retention.
Restricted free agent forward Tobias Harris has agreed to re-sign with the Magic on a four-year, $64 million contract, according to RealGM.com and NBA.com. The deal, which kicks in for the 2015-16 season and runs through 2018-19, reportedly doesn't include any options.
"When I first came to the NBA, I wanted to just really be here for more than four years," Harris told the Orlando Sentinel. "You know, that’s the average expectancy as an NBA player. I’m blessed to have the opportunity to be in Orlando, to get an opportunity where I can showcase my game and be on a great team with great teammates and a great organization."
Harris, 22, averaged 17.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists last season for Orlando, who acquired him from Milwaukee in a 2013 trade. The 2011 first-round pick distinguished himself as a bright spot on one of the league's worst offenses, becoming one of just four players 22-and-under to average at least 17 points last season. Thanks to a big, physical frame and a developing perimeter game, Harris projects as a lead scoring option capable of playing both forward positions. SI.com ranked Harris as the No. 22 player on our "Top 25 Free Agents of 2015" list.
Although he shot a career-best 36.4% from deep and hit multiple game-winners in 2014-15, Harris is getting paid here on progress and potential rather than results. Harris has steadily improved his per-game and advanced numbers as his playing time has increased, but he's yet to log real minutes on a competitive squad. This deal amounts to an act of faith for the Magic: new coach Scott Skiles was brought in to help the rebuilding Magic turn the corner, and he'll now expect Harris to grow into a leadership role.
If Harris is going to live up to his $16 million average annual salary, he will need to display better commitment on the defensive end. The Magic's defense was nearly four points worse with Harris on the court last season, and his -2.21 Defensive Real Plus-Minus ranked No. 77 among small forwards. Harris has all the makings of a talented, multi-threat scorer, but he's not so talented that he can get away with being a one-way floater.
Financially, Orlando had no major issue paying up to Harris, as the bulk of Orlando's 2015-16 rotation—Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier and Mario Hezonja—is on low-cost rookie deals. GM Rob Hennigan has been extra prudent during the post-Dwight Howard era, and Harris joins center Nikola Vucevic as the first two youngsters in the pipeline to get paid. Even if Hennigan and his front office weren't totally sold on Harris as a star in the making, they possessed the flexibility to pay to keep Harris and postpone the "Is he the long-term go-to guy?" question for another year or two.
Even though Harris is one of the league's most anonymous major-dollar players, Orlando need not be subjected to accusations of overpaying: multiple teams were reportedly lining up with max-type offer sheets, and a similarly strong market should be there down the road if other members of the Magic's young group emerge as brighter lights. Hennigan and his organization have some sweat equity in Harris, and reason to believe he can blossom into a difference-maker in relatively short order. That's reason enough to keep him in the fold.