Ideal Landing Spots for Star NBA Free Agent Tobias Harris

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 15, 2019

Ideal Landing Spots for Star NBA Free Agent Tobias Harris

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    The NBA's most interesting journeyman has reached the open market.

    While never an All-Star, Tobias Harris has often produced like one, most recently providing 20 points per night and compiling a brilliant 48.7/39.7/86.6 shooting slash. But for one reason or another, he's yet to find his long-term hoops home.

    He has donned five different jerseys over his first eight seasons and never spent three full campaigns in the same spot.

    Maybe this summer will finally supply that elusive stability.

    The 26-year-old should be highly sought-after as a multifaceted forward built for the modern game. He could opt to run it back with the Philadelphia 76ers, who fell one win shy of an Eastern Conference Finals appearance, or he might seek greener pastures and greater offensive responsibilities elsewhere.

    Based on what likely suitors have to offer, we have assembled his five best landing spots.

5. Dallas Mavericks

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    With Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis starring in the Dallas Mavericks' Steve Nash-Dirk Nowitzki reboot, the club can't wait to start courting potential supporting actors.

    "It's going to be a very interesting and opportunistic summer," Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said, per Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News. "We certainly are positioned to make some noise. ... We're ridin' the Luka wave and the Kristaps wave and trying to surround these guys with the right young core."

    Porzingis, a restricted free agent, needs a new deal to become a fixture in the franchise's future. But look at Nelson's quote. Clearly, the unicorn has been ticketed for a starring role.

    It isn't hard to picture Harris slotting between Dallas' new building blocks as a mismatch scoring forward.

    A 40.5 percent three-point splasher the past two seasons, he'd add value as an off-ball decoy and drive-and-kick safety valve. But he can also function as a temporary offensive hub, possessing the pull-up three-point shooting (41.3 percent) and post-up touch (48.4 percent) to shred defenders inside and out.

    But should the Mavs and Harris come together this summer, they may not do so as the other's first, second or even third choice.

    If Dallas wants an accelerator, it can pursue higher-profile, more productive options such as Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler or Khris Middleton. Harris could find clubs closer to winning, closer to home or closer to both. Maybe there's mutual interest between them, but they could regard the other as a consolation prize.

4. New York Knicks

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    The last time Harris neared the open market, he was said to have eyes for the New York Knicks. Coming home reportedly piqued the interest of the Long Island product, a Harris confidant told's Adam Zagoria.

    This was back in 2014, so the prospect of playing with Carmelo Anthony did, too.

    The Blue and Orange still have that hometown allure, and maybe that's enough to grab Harris' attention. But it's worth remembering everything about this team is now different from what it was then—new players, new coach, new front office.

    Oh yeah, and who knows how much of next season's roster is actually in place. Just four players have guaranteed contracts for 2019-20, and some of them could even be up for grabs should the 'Bockers find their way into the Anthony Davis sweepstakes.

    The Knicks are preparing to pursue just about everyone, from Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving (as a package deal) on down. But they scouted Harris' playoff run, so there's some level of interest on their side. Maybe he's Plan B (or C or D), but he's in the discussion nonetheless.

    Still, unless he's dead set on suiting up inside Madison Square Garden, he can probably find more appealing options than New York's blank canvas. While the Knicks attempt to sell him on a vision, others can provide more tangible paths to team success.

3. Philadelphia 76ers

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    If Harris wants a reason to stay, the Sixers could give him 190 million to think about.

    He may not look like a max-contract player to everyone, but that doesn't matter. He can create shots for himself and others, drain long-distance daggers at an elite rate and initiate pick-and-roll offense as a 6'9" combo forward. That unique skill set should elicit a max offer from someone, which would effectively establish the going rate for Philly.

    Sixers managing partner Josh Harris wants Tobias back. Same goes for Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

    The numbers say this core is worth keeping together, too. Though assembled on the fly, Philly's first five of Simmons, Harris, Embiid, Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick steamrolled most anything in its path. It posted an incredible plus-17.6 net rating over 161 regular-season minutes, then upped the ante with a plus-24.9 mark across 173 playoff minutes.

    Not to be overlooked in this discussion, Harris enjoyed balling in the City of Brotherly Love.

    "I like it here," he said in March, per NBC Philadelphia's Paul Hudrick. "It's a good group of guys and a team that has a lot of potential. Coach [Brett Brown] has been great for me. ... He's a great coach to be around, so I'm happy."

    So, why aren't the Sixers ranked higher than third? Because Harris could play a more prominent role elsewhere without sacrificing much, if anything, in terms of team upside.

    He had the lowest usage rate of Philly's opening five during the regular season (21.3) and saw that number shrink even smaller in the playoffs (18.8). For someone who has increased his scoring output in all but one of his NBA seasons, recommitting to such a low place on the pecking order could sabotage too much of his growth potential.

2. Brooklyn Nets

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    While we're labeling the Brooklyn Nets as Harris' second-best landing spot, it's more akin to a 1B designation. They can scratch almost every itch he'll bring on his recruitment tour.

    The location speaks for itself. His grandmother is a lifelong resident of Bedford-Stuyvesant. His family can flood the Barclays Center, as 30 of them did for Game 4 of the Nets-Sixers first-round series. (Coincidentally or not, his two-game playoff averages at Barclays were 26.5 points, 12.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists with a 52.5/60.0/71.4 shooting slash.)

    And Harris' connection to the Nets extends beyond the area itself. He goes back a long way with head coach Kenny Atkinson, a fellow Long Islander.

    "His brother [Steve] coached at my high school," Harris told Brian Lewis of the New York Post. "He coached my little brother [Tyler]. They have a big family, a couple times I ran into another one of the brothers he has. It's not the biggest place. I know coach Kenny."

    The Nets would fill two voids with Harris, who could serve as a power forward and a scoring sidekick to either D'Angelo Russell or a second top-shelf free agent. Harris could shine in Atkinson's three-heavy offense, both as a perimeter splasher and a shot-creator who'd benefit from the extra breathing room.

    But Brooklyn might not have the stoppers to cover up Harris' deficiencies at the defensive end, and the team's timeline could be a tick behind his own. That might sound like nitpicking, but it's just enough to create separation between the Nets and the top team in these rankings.

1. Utah Jazz

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Congratulations, Utah Jazz! You've finally won a (theoretical) sweepstakes for a big-fish free agent!

    We get it. No blue-chip free agents ever seem to pick Salt Lake City. But the Jazz can offer exactly what Harris says he wants.

    "For me honestly, style of play is a huge thing. Culture," Harris told reporters of his free-agency wish list. "A chance to be able to win. Just being in the playoffs here and seeing how bad that loss felt. Those are just two things off the top."

    Utah has an immediate opening for a secondary (or co-lead) scorer alongside Donovan Mitchell. Harris could fit as snug as a pair of skinny jeans.

    The Jazz had the NBA's fourth-highest assist percentage, while Harris was a 97th percentile spot-up sniper over his 55 games with the Los Angeles Clippers. He also attempted nearly 35 percent of his shots after three-plus dribbles; Mitchell was among the league leaders in attempts after three-to-six dribbles (seventh) and seven dribbles or more (seventh).

    Utah is desperate for a second offensive option. Rudy Gobert, who rarely strays outside the restricted area, averaged the second-most points and had a 3.2-points-per-game lead on No. 3 Ricky Rubio. Harris could fill that void, while Gobert and the rest of the Jazz's second-ranked defense could cover for him on basketball's less glamorous end.

    The Jazz won one fewer game than the Sixers in 2018-19. They could have max money available by moving on from Derrick Favors and Ricky Rubio, which, if handled properly, could lead to addition by subtraction. With Mitchell still on his rookie deal and Gobert inked through 2020-21, they don't have the same cap crunch and future uncertainty as Philly.

    If Harris wants a long-term home that optimizes both his usage and his chance at team success, Salt Lake City can provide the stability he's been seeking.


    Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and Salary information obtained via Basketball Insiders.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.