Prior to the 2014/15 season tipping off, the Orlando Magic were able to reach a deal on an extension with Nikola Vucevic for four years and a reported $52 million. While locking up Vucevic was huge for the franchise, not locking up forward Tobias Harris, arguably the team's best scorer, was equally as big.
Harris is now poised to hit the restricted free agent market in July, and could, in the blink of an eye, change teams for the second time in his career. While restricted free agency benefits the Magic--the team has the right to match any offer sheet Harris may sign--it could also end up hurting the team.
With talk of Harris' pending free agency flying all over during the team's exit interviews Thursday, Harris was calm as always, admitting he isn't too worried about what's going to happen.
"Only God knows what's next," said the fourth-year combo forward. "I can't control the future. No one can. You know, I'll leave that up to management to decide what the overall plan is and go from there."
While Harris was mum on the topic, he did say he would like to stay in Orlando, citing his time spent here the last few years as a main reason, but did admit that winning is "the biggest thing." Magic general manager Rob Hennigan once again reiterated his plans for Harris, saying the team doesn't "envision a scenario where Tobias isn't with us next season, and we'll stay true to that."
The true value of Harris is very hard to gauge. A source with knowledge of previous talks with Harris and the team said the Magic offered Harris a deal in the range of $9 million per year prior to the season. Talks between the involved parties never gained much steam after Harris' camp reportedly turned down the Magic's original offer.
It's no secret that Harris plays a big role in the Magic's offense; after all, he did finish as the team's third leading scorer this season, trailing only the aforementioned Vucevic and second-year guard Victor Oladipo. However, apart from scoring and rebounding, Harris doesn't bring much to the table at this point.
The ball has a tendency to stick once it reaches Harris' hands, ultimately hurting any flow that the Magic's offense may have. While he improved his percentages from both beyond the arc and the field as a whole, his shot selection from time-to-time is questionable. Moreover, he still has some shortcomings on the defensive end despite improving on that end of the floor this season.
With the salary cap set to explode next year, re-signing Harris to a lucrative deal wouldn't break the Magic's back. With very little long term salary--not including picking up contract options on Oladipo, Elfrid Payton, and Aaron Gordon, the Magic are slated to only have just over $19.5 million in guaranteed money, per Basketball Insiders' salaries page--giving Harris $13 million a year wouldn't put the Magic in a precarious position, with the cap projected to rise as much as $40 million before the 2017/18 season.
Should the two sides fail to come to an agreement on a deal, and no other team offers Harris a deal due to worries of the Magic automatically matching, Harris could take the path that Detroit Pistons big man Greg Monroe did and sign the qualifying offer to stay with the team for one more year. This option, in the end, could be Harris' best choice. While it's unclear how many teams may be interested in his services right now, and with the cap slated to jump roughly $20 million next season, he could play out a year and choose where he signs as an unrestricted free agent following the conclusion of the 2015/16 season.
Harris' free agency will be a big topic when the Magic are bought up this offseason, but in the end, for the Magic it's about what's best for him in both the short and long terms. If the two sides are able to come to a deal, Harris will be a key cog for many years to come. If they are unable to, Harris will be able to reflect back on the times he had here and be thankful he was given the opportunity to grow and turn into the player he is today.