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How Gary Harris’ injury impacts the Orlando Magic

How will the team soldier on in Harris’ absence?

Orlando Magic v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

On Saturday it was reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that Magic guard Gary Harris suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee; crushing news for a team 36 days away from their preseason opener.

The ninth-year guard appeared in 61 games last season, the most since the 2017-18 season and the third-most of his career. And after signing a two-year, $26 million contract extension this summer, it was evident that Harris would be a foundational player for Orlando moving forward.

For the time being, the most reasonable course of action the Magic can take is to prepare for Harris to miss an extended period of time. In terms of his recovery, there is no telling how long he will be out.

For reference, while a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2018, Jimmy Butler suffered a torn meniscus but managed to miss only 17 games, returning in time for the playoffs despite suffering the injury in late February.

Conversely, Golden State Warriors’ center and former No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman was sidelined with a meniscus tear for a little over a year (although he had two surgeries in that time) and recently made his return to the court during the 2022 NBA Summer League.

The best case scenario would have Harris back for the start of the 2022-23 regular season while the worst case scenario could see him sitting out through the 2023 All-Star break and beyond.

Regardless of a recovery time though, the two aspects of Harris’ game Orlando will greatly miss is his three-point shooting and perimeter defense.

For a team that ranked 28th in three-point percentage last season, the Magic desperately needed more shooters on their roster. Resigning Harris was part of the solution.

After shooting 36.4 percent from three in his first 20 games with Orlando during the 2020-21 season, Harris connected on 41.3 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes this past season while being the most efficient left corner shooter in the league.

The ripple effect of Harris’ injury could mean there is more of an onus on second-year guard Jalen Suggs to improve his deep ball, more playing time for rookie Caleb Houstan all while making veteran wing Terrence Ross less expendable than before.

As for their defense, the Magic are seemingly building an identity on that side of the ball; and Harris was a big part of that.

With his ability to defend quick guards and large wings, Harris’ defensive versatility will be missed. That said, if Suggs continues to grow as a defensive stalwart in year two that would soften the blow, as would the return of Jonathan Isaac.

But no matter how you spin it, losing a top-tier perimeter defender will only hinder the Magic’s defense this coming season.

Yet more than Harris’ three-and-D prowess, Orlando’s young roster could miss his veteran presence more than any tangible skill.

Unlike most support systems, veterans players can connect to young players while simultaneously providing valuable lessons like the importance of patience and professionalism, pregame and postgame routines, adjusting to the speed of the NBA and more.

Being a teenager can be a stressful experience, and with millions of eyes watching you it can be even more overwhelming. Having one less stable veteran presence in those uncertain moments could prove costly this year.

All this said, the Magic can only hope Harris’ injury is not too severe and that he can make his return to the court as soon as possible. In the mean time, the team needs a next player up mentality as they approach the start of training camp.