The Brooklyn Nets cleared a significant amount of cap room for next summer, and Tobias Harris is someone whom their sights should be on.
A tweet from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski disrupted a typical Wednesday morning. He reported of a deal made by Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks that sent Timofey Mozgov, two second-round draft picks and cash to the Charlotte Hornets for Dwight Howard. Positive feedback followed.
Adding Howard, who was waived the day after the trade, and dumping Mozgov’s contract allocates roughly $65 million in cap space for the Nets to use next summer, enough to bring on two players with between seven and nine years of experience. The class is stuffed with talent.
Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, and Kawhi Leonard are the headliners. Hidden in a lower tier is Tobias Harris, the 26-year-old who will spend this season with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Brooklyn shouldn’t be bashful with their offerings. The worst a player can do is reject the deal, which will be as lucrative as anywhere else. The Nets’ most significant disadvantage, however, is that they aren’t a big market team — in basketball terms — despite playing in what’s considered New York City.
Brooklyn and Manhattan have different atmospheres; the Barclays Center lacks the lore and historical prominence of Madison Square Garden. Star free agents typically want to play where the lights are brightest, and Los Angeles is the only other NBA city that competes with NYC. Of course, Brooklyn is in New York City, but there’s something different about the Nets.
Harris had played in small markets up until the second half of his most recent campaign. He spent his first seven-plus years bouncing around with the Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic, and Detroit Pistons before getting traded to the Clippers this past February as a part of the Blake Griffin deal. After landing in Hollywood, Harris played the best basketball of his career and averaged 19.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 3.1 assists while shooting 41.4 percent from three in 32 games.
“He’s better than I thought,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers of Tobias Harris back in March, per ESPN’s Royce Young. “We knew he was good, but didn’t know he was this good.”
Los Angeles owes Harris $14.8 million for the 2018-19 season. He declined the $80 million extension offered to him in July and will hit free agency looking for an enormous payday. The Clippers’ have the upper hand when it comes to negotiations. They can offer Harris $188 million over five years whereas any other organization is limited to $145.5 million over four years. They can also pitch Harris on the prospect of being the face of the franchise.
Throughout his career, Tobias Harris had a handful of teammates that he split time with as the first option: Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson (when he was healthy). He’s made gradual improvements in silence.
This upcoming contract year on a less-talented Clippers team means higher usage, creating a platform on which Harris can showcase his versatility. He’s evolved into a lethal three-point shooter but is just as comfortable putting the ball on the deck and attacking defenders. A feathery touch around the rim (61.1 percent in the restricted area) allows him to convert on a variety of challenging shots, and being 6-foot-9 with a 6-foot-11 wingspan is a tremendous advantage as well.
The Nets, at this juncture, don’t have a player of Harris’ level. D’Angelo Russell is their most dynamic creator, but he’s prone to taking ill-advised shots and has bouts with frigid cold spells. That’s fine for now. He’s young and still has room to develop. Russell’s ceiling is higher than Harris’, but Harris is closer to his and is a more reliable offensive player. He’s comfortable facilitating at times and has become proficient in the pick-and-roll, doing enough damage to land himself in the 83rd percentile.
Kenny Atkinson loves versatile wings, and Harris’ improved passing and outstanding basketball IQ are an excuse for him to orchestrate the offense occasionally. Additionally, Harris thrived as a catch-and-shoot guy and converted at a rate of 41.2 percent on those chances this past year. He also finished in the 75th percentile on spot-up opportunities, according to Synergy. Brooklyn was tied for third with 1.06 points per possession on those attempts, trailing only the Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers.
Harris would fit into the Nets’ foundation without cracking the surrounding blocks. Playing in Brooklyn also provides a sort of home-court advantage. Harris was born in Islip, a town on Long Island that’s 90 minutes from the Barclays Center if you’re gutsy enough to drive there. (Don’t. Please take the train. It’s far less agitating.) He played his high school ball at Half Hollow Hills West in Dix Hills, another town on Long Island that’s northwest of Islip.
The summer of 2019 is a long way away. There is an infinite number of events that could transpire leading to the Brooklyn Nets not needing to pursue any big-time free agents next summer. That, however, is unlikely.
Should things continue as we expect, Tobias Harris will be one of the players the Nets extend an offer to when the time arrives. He has the skill set to thrive in a high-octane system that’s heavy on three-pointers, whether it’s as the centerpiece or not. And the Nets would still have enough cash to go out and bring in one more premier player.